One of my most enduring memories of a year long stay in France, as an au pair, was a hot drink made from verveine, a plant we refer to as lemon verbena. It was wonderfully comforting, had a familiar lemony aroma and sugar really enhanced its flavour. So when I heard about a hand cream with that wonderful scent I just had to try it out.
Winter time is one when my cuticles have a tendency to crack, resulting in that really long period of pain. The lemon verbena hand cream has a 20% shea butter base. It’s creamy texture is easily absorbed, leaving hands soft and supple and I find especially effective when rubbed round the fingernail.
On my desk at the moment are the final contestants in my Strictly Skincare hand cream choice. I started with about 20 different products. The five are, in no particular order of preference – they are all used regularly:
Energizing Verbena Hand Cream – Panier des Sens, en Provence that comes with very pretty packaging
Morrisons Unscented Hand Cream, Concentrated – a glycerine based cream it is useful when you don’t want to wear a second scent that might conflict. It is very creamy, softening dry skin and useful to add before you start to work in the garden.
Q10 by Pharma Nord is another hand cream that conditions and protects at the same time. It contains ginkgo Biloba, Pycnogenol and Vitamin E. All ingredients considered highly beneficial by skincare aficionados.
Lotil Original is specifically designed for cold weather and I always check there is a small tube in my handbag at this time of year.
On a recent visit to The Dales I took my tube of English Weather Cream. I always use this in cold weather because my face dries out in cold windy weather and this cream works absolutely fantastically. However, it has been recently discontinued … Made by Lotil it is no longer available – such a shame. I’m looking for a replacement product and will let you know if I find one.
Wearing silk lined gloves helps to keep my hands warm and in conjunction with any one of these handcreams I’m able to keep them in good condition, safe from damaging cold weather.
All are available online but of course in store is always a good place to try them out!
Kate Campbell, Health Editor
Kate has worked with editor Val Reynolds since 1996 and they are constantly looking for top quality, effective skincare products. Do you have a favourite? Do let us know and we will pass on your recommendations.
Every year we put together a list of the products we have tried and loved over the year and include them in our Christmas List. 2012 has been a memorable year for visits, tastings and tests.
These are our favourites:
Chocolate bouquet – can’t think of anything more tempting than this astonishingly beautiful chocolate bouquet - we’re sending it as a family gift to five families who live far and wide who will be meeting up for Christmas in a country house in the Midlands. A smaller bouquet and individual flowers are also available. Utterly charming, seems a shame to eat them.
Last year we were impressed by and ordered several items from the Thompson & Morgan catalogue of bouquets and other floral gifts. This year they have added to the items on offer. All details on their website.
Booja Booja chocolate truffles are oh so yum! Organic and made by hand, we have to restrict ourselves to one each a day until the box is empty. Delicious flavours include raspberry – our absolute favourite is the Champagne Truffle … so irresistible they should be banned! Ingredients for chocolate aficionados: Dark chocolate (cocoa solids 55%, cane sugar, emulsifier, soya lecithin, vanilla, coconut oil, champagne 8%, Agave, Cocoa powder.
Cooking in someone else’s kitchen is always interesting and on our return from a two month stay in France we immediately bought a hand blender – there are lots on the market but we plumped for the Sainsbury 200K version. At the surprising price of £4.13 it does the job quite well and is good enough for soups, blending cooked fruit and vegetables. We love the flexibility of blending direct in the saucepan. Much less washing up. For slicing, chopping and making small quantities of sauce our Magimix is indispensable – it has considerably more power with well designed cutting discs.
We love our Russell Hobbs Brita Filter Kettle. Living in a hard water and limescale area, dark rings on cups and a film on coffee and tea is really noticeable and slightly unpleasant. All that disappears using this filter kettle and your tea and coffee tastes so much better too. Of course you have the ongoing expense of the filters, but we prefer that to the unpleasant effects of scale. We use the filtered water for cooking as well.
Another useful device in the French kitchen was a simple Spoon Rest. I could only search out one, in John Lewis, the Playnation Ceramic Rest costs £8. It’s big enough to hold more than one wooden spoon, it gives me less cleaning to do of food marks on the worktop. Just throw it in the dishwasher, well best not to throw … Definitely the most useful piece of kitchen kit I have come across in years.
Digital scales As I am on a calorie restricted food programme (called a diet by everyone else!) an accurate, easy to clean, set of scales is essential. Again John Lewis came up trumps and I was pleased the nicest one I found, Salter 1036 Electronic Disc Kitchen Scale, 5kg, Black only cost £12.80. It has a lot of positive reviews.
I was lucky enough to interview Stanley Kubrick’s widow, Christiane, a month or so ago to talk about her, painting, work methods and style. The feature will appear in the New Year.
Christiane was kind enough to sign a copy of the Taschen Book: The Stanley Kubrick Archives for us to offer to In Balance readers. This giveaway will appear on this website early in 2013.
The book is the first to explore Kubrick’s archives and the most comprehensive study of the filmmaker to date. It would be a must for any film buff. Reviews on the Taschen website are enlightening.
Another book we came across is Uniquely British, A Year in the Life of The Household Cavalry, written by serving officers and soldiers. The book covers events that took place during 2011 and 2012 and gives a unique insight into the background activities of a 350 year old organisation. Published to fund the launch of the Household Cavalry Foundation, a new charity to support serving soldiers, operational casualties, veterans or even their horses. Uniquely British is available direct from the publishers Tricorn Books, who presumably pay their British taxes which is more than be said about that huge organisation that sends most of its UK profits home to the US whose name begins with a capital A and from whom we assume you wouldn’t order this book. Sorry, our prejudices are showing.
OTHER Favourites to Give you Inspiration
For those who find listening to book a lifeline when driving long distance, or doing any repetitive activity like gym work, talking books might be an appropriate gift. Our recent feature gives details
George Foreman Grill – Absolutely besotted with this easy to make sandwich grill that cooks steaks to a T! Our feature gives details
Rose Oil is our absolute favourite product for facial care. From Living Nature we would never be without it!
Belleville Rendezvous – If you haven’t seen this do have a look at our feature – it’s a cartoon which is so funny and whacky yet charming and engaging.
Insect House – This is a fascinating item to attracts insects that will stay in your garden to help pollinate your fruit and vegetables. Young children love it. Our recent feature gives details.
And FINALLY, we’ve left the best until last! We spent an overnight spa stay at Whittlebury Hall. We so enjoyed this. A world class hydrotherapy centre, offering a vast range of treatments, beautiful decor, spacious accommodation, wonderful food … seriously large swimming pool, golf course, beautiful grounds to explore … You might just like to book up one of the special deals on offer up to Christmas! I took my husband who loved it … now that’s a recommendation!
Phew, I hope you find something of interest to choose as a thoughtful gift.
Good luck and the compliments of the season!
Val Reynolds Brown, Editor
Favourite books from readers – all of them have been read more than once and they would never ever give them away. Eat your heart out Oxfam!
Heidi – a heartrending story by Johanna Spyri of such poignancy that it still makes me cry every time I read it even now at 70! J Jarvis
The Rough Guide to Classic Novels - this is such a good crib book. It’s used it a lot just to keep me up with those references in the media that crop up from time to time – I’m always up to date! J Gorringe
The Man who Planted Trees - a very short but hugely inspiring book – it renews hope and faith in the human psyche. L Alexander
RHS Pruning by Christopher Brickell - I’ve had this book for more than 30 years and it never lets me down. V McDonald
How to Grow Fresh Air - an astonishing book that came out of research for a breathable environment for a lunar habitat. K Colston
Travels with Watercolour - Lucy Willis inspires her readers to be courageous in their painting in new surroundings. S Walling
Mr Thrifty’s How to save money on absolutely everything – a hugely amusing and useful book written by Jane Furnival, now sadly no longer with us. A book to read and read – get a copy! K Gardner
Food in England - Dorothy Hartley wrote a series of books based on her travels around the UK in the 1930′s to 1950′s. Her beautiful line drawings are humorous as well as accurate and her description makes her books essential for anyone interested in social history. J Marshall
Way of the Peaceful Warrior - a lyrical, hauntingly beautiful book that might just change your life! I go back to it regularly. K Campbell
Bob Flowerdew’s Organic Bible, successful gardening the natural way The first book I go to when needing inspiration, reliable and understandable guidance for the garden. V Reynolds
All these books are of course available on Amazon, however rather than support a company that doesn’t want to pay tax on its UK profits perhaps you could find a bookseller who does. We are researching this – if you have any suggestions do get in touch.
If you have some favourites feel free to send an email to email@example.com
Do you have any books you use to read in the gym when on the walking machine? Here’s a link to our feature.
Visiting gardens is a most interesting and a very popular pasttime. Wimpole Hall was the latest we visited end of May, 2012 where it was interesting to see the advanced growth of their onions, whereas ours were mere blips on the landscape by comparison! We also noted the wild bee houses liberally sited throughout the gardens. A variegated horseradish was much admired by visitors and irises were in full bloom despite the lack of rain for the last week or so. Based in Hertfordshire we tend to spread out north and east, so for us a visit to the Langford village gardens in Oxfordshire on Sunday 17 June between 2 and 6 pm is not really on our agenda. However the gardens sound magnificent and if you are anywhere near do consider a visit.
There are 26 gardens to wander round, both large and small including one created by Hardy Amies, famous for dressing the Queen for more than 55 years. The Grange and Ansells Farm gardens are open for the first time and Lower Farm House, a garden at the medieval end of the village has been completely remodelled.
Garden visiting wouldn’t be the same without tea and homemade cakes and there will be two locations to choose from.
£4.50 per person on entry and children go free!
More information on website
Val Reynolds, Editor
When I heard of a super strength cat repellent I was sceptical – I have tried so many products over the years. Cats wander through our garden at will and catch and kill birds visiting the garden. We feel responsible for the safety of birds visiting our garden as we encourage them by providing a seed feeder and apples from our trees for a pair of song thrushes.
One year we had a great spotted woodpecker that visited regularly and brought its two young to eat the hazelnuts we put into a bough of a dead tree. To read that feature click here.
However, to our great delight the Neudorff Super Strength Cat Repellent has worked! We haven’t seen a cat since I scattered the granules where they appear over the fence, through the privet hedge and under the garden gate.
At £4.49 I thought it was a bit on the dear side. I also read on the instructions the granules will lose their strength if it rains, so another tub would be necessary after rain. But, in view of its complete success I won’t begrudge the cost.
The clay based mineral granules are grey in colour that hold plant based oils – garlic oil in fact. The long lasting odour is disliked by cats so the best places to scatter the granules is where the cats enter the garden and also where the birds are most active. In our garden this is where the bird feeders are, on seed beds and beside the pond.
Depending on the weather, the period of protection is 3-4 weeks.
The granules come in a 500 g can.
So would I buy more? A resounding yes! And I would have a couple of spares to make sure I can keep those pesky critters out of our garden forever, or is that tempting fate!
Super Strength Cat Repellent is £4.49 available from:
Blue Diamond centres, full range at Derby, Trentham and Le Friquet
All good garden centres
Val Reynolds, Editor
An unprepossessing name hides a remarkable new product. The Groove Bulb is a high quality, low energy light eminently suitable in the home. It uses 85 per cent less electricity than standard bulbs, so despite its higher purchase price* it ensures immediate savings. With an approximate life span of 30 years there’ll be no need to replace it for a very long time**.
So what are its credentials apart from the impressive cost savings?
It’s available in bayonet or Edison screw cap
Provides a clear white light – good for reading and activities involving small detail much easier
They are dimmable
99 per cent recyclable
Has the lowest CO2 emissions of any lighting technology on the market
Aesthetically we prefer the natural – nearly white – grooves to the silver grooves
The company, Groove Bulb, intends expanding the range to include a 100w equivalent and a candle style bulb by the end of the year.
Groove Bulb is a privately owned company operating in the UK. The founder, James Theobald, has over thirty years’ experience of LED manufacturing.
This bulb is neat. It’s very bright. We have used it in the entrance hall and would prefer it to be somewhat less bright, so a dimmer switch would make it more appropriate. Perhaps placing it in an enclosed light fitting would help to reduce its brightness.
OTHER ADVANTAGES It could be left on all night, with a dimmer switch, in dark corridors rather than using the much more expensive motion sensor light switches used in hospitals and high activity corridors.
WILL WE BE BUYING SOME?
Yes – what’s not to like?!
The Groove Bulb can be purchased exclusively via the website: www.groovebulb.com
*9w bulbs are retailing at £15.95, which is 25 per cent cheaper than similar quality LED bulbs on the market
**Calculations are based on a UK average of 24 bulbs per household used for three hours per day with electricity charged at 15p per kilowatt saving you c. £200 per year/£16 per month.
Val Reynolds, Editor
It would seem to be a generational thing. I’m old, much older than many of our readers, and I don’t clean my shoes very often. All made from Nubuck they only needed proofing on purchase and later, much later, a clean/restoration session.
Okay, so I’m different and don’t do the polish bit, but what I do remember about polish is Cherry Blossom, Meltonian, Mansion Polish, along with other contemporary products such as Dinky toys, sugar in blue paper bags, crisps with blue twists of salt in the packets, broken biscuits in Home & Colonial – all products my generation will be familiar with. And just how many are still around?
Well Meltonian has gone, as has Mansion Polish but Cherry Blossom shoe polish is blooming, or should I say shining! Apparently these days we are more conscious of repair and care, rather than throwaway and buy again and shoes are taking a more centre stage position.
Cherry Blossom is a British product through and through, originally conceived and produced in 1906 but over the years the name has changed hands. In 1992 Grangers, the company well known to campers wanting to reproof their tents, equipment and clothing, bought the right to use the name, manufacture and sell in the UK and export to certain other countries.
I visited the Cherry Blossom factory in Alfreton, near Derby a couple of months ago. It had a real good feel factor about it.
The science of polish is not hugely technical, although over the years it has adapted to health and safety standards and more recently bypassed the need for certain specific ingredients by creating replicas. This sounds a bit odd, but in the case of a specific wax – mined in Hungary which is becoming very scarce as the mines close down – it makes total economic sense.
So why the interest? I was curious to see how polish was made. The production methods are not specially high tech, nor base production, and some parts are labour intensive. But there is something reassuring about a British company still producing goods that go all over the world. I felt a quiet pride that such a successful original was still being produced in the UK.
With a widening user base, a broadening range of trade customers, and 30 different polish colours on offer it’s no wonder impressive sales are in evidence.
In fact an impressive range of products to complement shoe polish, creams and wipes is going to push the company’s profits hugely in the next year or so.
Grangers are astutely widening their product range to include shoe inserts, insoles – the ones I tried are excellent, orthotics, toe warmers – great for skiers, hand warmers – excellent for football fans among others and I can foresee a very promising future.
Have a look at their website.
Interesting fact: Although called Cherry Blossom Polish the tin has never depicted Cherry Blossom but shown the rich shine which appears on ripe red cherries. Good question for a pub quiz!
Val Reynolds, Editor
Photography © Pintail Media
I can’t keep up with Thompson & Morgan! Verbascums, a favourite background filler for flowerbeds, have always been yellow! Then last year T&M brought out Clementine, a golden/bronze beauty. The plug plants I received grew strongly are now blooming rather well in May a year later.
Then a blue verbascum, Blue Lagoon, came on the market and I had to have some, especially to plant with Clementine as they would make a great contrast.
I have always loved delphiniums but like many other gardeners find my slugs love them even more and plants have always been decimated, always when my hopes were riding high for a fabulous display. So I ordered two plug plants £9.99 each or 2 for £17.99 to make up for my disappointing attempts to grow delphiniums. As they only arrived three weeks ago and won’t be anywhere near mature until next spring I will plant them in larger pots for the time being, making sure I use my outstandingly good labeller so they don’t become the pots that I wonder what’s in them!
Blue Lagoon has been developed using specialist micro-propagation techniques. It has the same characteristics as its fellow verbascums: low maintenance and well adapted to growing in poor, stony soils. It should grow to about 30 inches high and spread out for about 12 inches. Flowering from June through to September they like full sun. Although my garden loses it by 2 pm, Clementine is doing very well. Verbascums spread their leaves flat to the ground – a remarkably useful weed control feature.
Then I heard of yet another new verbascum – Pink Pixie. Spoilt for choice! I’ve decided to get some to grow with the aquilegia Green Apples, again it will be a good contrast and I’m hoping the height difference will add to its impact. I’ll be sure to space the verbascum plants far enough apart so as not to smother the aquilegia.
All the verbascum cost £9.99 each or £17.99 for two plants that come in 7cm pots. See T&M webpages for more details
Val Reynolds, Editor
Miss M I Huish, Aquilegia vulgaris, has a deep crimson flower like a Ballerina’s tutu. Perennials, aquilegias grow up to 2 feet tall and mix well with lighter foliage plants.
I found seed germinated well in May. Planted in the front and back garden around August 2011 about 2 feet apart, they are now flowering in May 2012 and expected to continue on until early June. Apparently they don’t last long as cut flowers, only 3-4 days, but they are very pretty so I’ll probably pick a few short stalks for a small table decoration.
I sowed seed of Green Apples, Aquilegia vulgaris, at the same time as Miss Huish which had a lower germination rate. They flower initially as white blossoms gradually turning to green.
Both these aquilegia resemble a double clematis but of course nowhere as large a flower. Aquilegias do well in full sun or partial shade, being a meadow and woodland plant. They will seed freely so I’m looking forward to them migrating all over the garden.
Thompson & Morgan offer a dual pack of seeds for £3.49, 70 seeds in total, or separate packs Green Apples £2.99 for 20 seeds, and Miss M I Huish 50 seeds for £1.99.
Val Reynolds, Editor
Link to our front garden website
As a child I was fascinated by things that moved which included frogs and newts, to dragonflies, to ants and slugs, bees and butterflies. At one stage my sister aged four and I, a couple of years older, put together an outdoor ‘museum’ with our exhibits in boxes to show our parents. Our ’cunning plan’ to bump up our pocket money was to charge them a penny each for admission – it worked!
Then birds entered my world and both interests have continued throughout my life.
One year I wanted to photograph birds in the garden and did a bit of research to find out how it had been done by others. We visited the RSPB headquarters and watched the great tits, blue tits, finches and great spotted woodpeckers feed on the nut and seed containers. Incredibly I saw a sparrowhawk take a great tit feeding on the nuts. Unlucky for the great tit of course, but the speed of the sparrowhawk was breathtaking. I was stunned, hardly able to believe what I had seen. I can still picture the body of the great tit hanging from the claws of the sparrowhawk.
The first step to set up a photographic area was to establish a feeding station. Regular feeding will attract the birds from the local area and as they come to rely on them it is important to keep the supply going throughout the winter. We use a squirrel proof seed container with the RSPB no mess mixture. That sounds a bit ‘neat and tidy’ but switching from the usual mixture saved having to frequently clean up the empty husks of the sunflowers all over the patio. Photographing birds on the feeder is ok and can show how attractive tits find the nuts and seeds.
However Kevin Keatley, a wildlife photographer advocates screwing a clamp to a pole just below the feeder. The birds land on it just before they go on to the feeder. Adding a sprig of autumn berries, or spring blossom makes for a more natural shot. Kevin uses a hide and a feeder about three to four metres away. The advantage of using a hide is that you can move it with the changing light. If you keep the sun to one side it gives a bit more depth to your photos. The ideal light is around midmorning or midafternoon. He has used the hide in heavy snow, the snow or frost covered hide is just like an igloo, insulating him from the freezing wind. There was a time when his wellies froze to the ground – but he says it was worth it when the slides came back with fantastic close ups of pheasants in the snow. Kevin has a website where you can see the hide and chair he uses. His site is well worth a visit, it is full of fascinating information and likely to stimulate some unexpected wandering on the web – have a look at his links.
Our feeders were hung from the pergola, about ten feet from the conservatory windows. I fixed a bed sheet across the open window and down to the ground, cut a slit in the sheet and poked the camera lens through. The camera was mounted on a tripod. I was happy with the bird shots I was getting and then one day a woodpecker came to the peanuts and I had to think about how to have it feeding away from the peanut container which didn’t look very natural. So I asked a friend to let me have a fallen branch from one of his trees.
We drilled big holes to hold the unshelled hazel nuts and almond nuts and placed the branch between two posts of the pergola. The nuts started to disappear although we didn’t get a glimpse of a woodpecker. Then one morning we did – it was very excited, making that distinctive, sharp ‘pic’ call. From then on we were adding nuts every three or four hours. Then may be two weeks later, two fledged young ones visited with their father. You can imagine how excited we were at the prospect of photographing them. That was easier said than done. As there was no regularity to the visits, the window was nearly always shut at the most exciting times!
I took some pictures through the double glazed window of the parent feeding the young but they were not sharp. Eventually only one young one came with its parent, and it took to hanging around the garden waiting for its parent, making desultory attempts at breaking open the nuts.
Once it found how to successfully eat the peanuts it lost interest in the hazelnuts. Then we witnessed the inevitable, the parent actually attacked the young one quite fiercely in response to its crying for food and we never saw them together again. They visit separately now. We expect them to continue to visit in the colder months and will have a big stock of nuts waiting for them! Strangely we haven’t had any problem with squirrels taking the hazelnuts. We did have problems with the peanuts until we bought the strong wire version that can’t be unhooked.
So progress? We are going to drill out bigger holes and put in walnuts – a tip from a very successful woodpecker attractor! We’re going to put a dead branch parallel to the ground about three feet up near to the feeders – I missed some really good shots of a great tit feeding its young – they were partially hidden by greenery on the cherry tree and I’m hoping with careful pruning and branch placement I’ll get the pictures I want!
Other steps I have taken to make the garden friendly to both insects and birds are to flowering plants that attract insects. The poppies, all varieties, attract hoverflies in droves. The nettles – kept in a pot – have ladybird larvae all over the leaves that hoover up aphids on neighbouring plants at an enormous rate. I let most plants go to seed – the evening primrose was a huge success with goldfinches. I had problems with keeping the seed from setting the next year, but the hoe is a wonderful tool!
I let some cabbage go to seed and had clouds of tiny black insects hovering over them. An expert told us it was their mating pattern.
In the spring plum blossom attracted a range of bees, from solitaries that live for six weeks, to big queen bumbles. I’ve found foxgloves, onion flowers and blackberries attract the most bumblebees. I like lots of colour in the garden and through trial and error have marigolds, escholtzia, oregano, poppies, evening primrose, foxgloves, nasturtiums, nigella growing unchecked. I’m trying lots of others – herbs, beans, roses, clematis, vines and hops.
The latest attraction is the bird bath perched on the patio wall. We’ve seen everything drinking and bathing there, from wrens to a pigeon that just flopped in and sloshed around to keep cool, and of course our woodpeckers.
What’s next? We’ll be putting up some nest boxes. It’s absolutely essential to have reliably waterproof and well designed boxes. The RSPB’s most popular boxes are for the tits and the open fronted box – suitable for robins, pied wagtails, and more excitingly, spotted flycatchers which are much more common than you might imagine.
The worst type of nest box lets in the rain – the young die from cold and damp, or the exit hole is too low and the young ones emerge underdeveloped and can‘t fly strongly. Result: they flop to the ground and are easy prey for jays, magpies, cats, rats. So if you are serious about making your own please, please, please get a copy of the British Trust for Ornithology booklet Nestboxes, written by Chris de Feu. It’s a gem, with designs for all kinds of birds including owls and house martins and a fascinating read.
For a month by month guide to attracting birds Stephen Moss has written The Bird-friendly Garden, published by Collins and gives lots of advice on how to make your garden a haven for birds. He gives advice on predators and pests, for instance for cats he recommends a machine that emits a high pitched whilst, inaudible to human ear but intolerable to cats. Gardens are the one place where we all can make a difference to wildlife … we felt enormously privileged to play a part in the upbringing of the two great spotted woodpeckers this year. We hope we’ll be doing the same next year.
Last year we attracted some bees to our bee nest box and are hoping for more this year. We brought the box indoors and kept it in a cool area of the house until early spring when the bees emerge. We bought our bee nest boxes from the now defunct Oxford Bee Company. Read our recent feature about the Neudorff Insect Hotel here. By the way we now have another Neudorff Insect Hotel to giveaway! All details on the feature.
Val Reynolds, Editor