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My Gardening Gurus – Anna, Sepp and Phil

Growing Food Anna Pavord

One of winter’s best features is having the excuse to sit down with a good book. And Anna Pavord, my favourite gardening guru, published Growing Food last year and it is always going to be on the bookshelf to dip into from time to time.

Anna describes different planting plans, one such is the Exuberant Potager, where she mixes flowering plants to complement the vegetables. Here she advocates areas with different plant mixes:

  • nasturtiums, beans and squash
  • lettuce, onions with eschscholtzia
  • carrots, beetroot with marigolds, among others

In fact, a bit like my planting which is very mixed, but not so well thought out. I’m working on a plan to incorporate her ideas.

Other plans include a formal herb garden, a Mediterranean garden, a city larder for a small balcony, cottage garden, salad and herb plot, a vegetable patchwork, traditional kitchen garden, an alcholic hedge (!), and a formal fruit garden. All the plans illustrated with delightful drawings, much in the style of the Dorothy Hartley books of yesteryear. The plans are easily adapted to suitable most plots, with a bit of artistic licence. Anna is such a respected gardener, she has had a hellebore named after her, Anna’s Red.

The ‘cunning plan’ of last November was to clear all the plants from most of the beds in the back garden and cover with leaves and horse manure. The leaves to provide an airy protective covering and eventually be taken down into the earth by the worms, with the manure holding the leaves down so they don’t fly around the garden. This mulching also ensures the bluebells, that have grown in large patches and grow between and through plants, come through the leaves and can be seen and easily dug up. Well as I said, that was the plan and it has worked reasonably well, although I think some bluebells have been missed, again, so probably next year will see me digging more up. We replanted them on the periphery of the garden and down a grassy drive beside our house.

Mulching is big in Sepp Holzer’s activities in his property in Austria. Famous for his permaculture philosophy and practices, Sepp is so down to earth and practical, it is a joy to read his book. There are web pages you can read and also videos. He writes about using pigs to clear ground before planting – so similar to Phil Drabble‘s experiences I read about many years ago.

Phil Drabble's bookBoth inspirational men. I would love to meet Sepp and talk gardens, sadly Phil died in 2007 at the age of 93.

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor


The Day I Won, and Again, and Again, and Again, and Again, and Again!

Eating al fresco, Languedoc Roussilion in October

Eating al fresco, Languedoc Roussilion in October

I knew we were low on wine, in fact only a couple of bottles of rose cava which we usually only drink on special occasions, were loitering on the shelf. So I thought I would have another look at the Virgin Wine website where I had ordered a case of mixed white wines earlier in the year. Although my husband had sniffed at the absence of corks we rather liked the selection and they were drunk enthusiastically.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am most definitely not a wine connoisseur, I’m unable to tell one grape from another. However I have made wine over a period of more than 35 years with various ingredients, from potato to sultana, from peach to raspberry and also our own grapes grown in the garden, so I have a certain tolerance/experience of unusual/different flavours.

With wines conventionally made from grapes I know what I like the taste of and it is quite a range, but I always enjoy Chardonnay and Merlot, without always looking at the label. So looking at the Virgin Wine website I was interested to see what was on offer in their Auction section.

Wine tasting session

Wine tasting session

Several cases of really interesting mixes and bids were quite low. The bidding works like e-Bay, so I put some bids in and noticed the bidding increased as the time ran out, and I didn’t win any.

I decided then to place a fixed bid overall on eight different auctions running at the same time and watch how things went. The strategy worked … rather too well actually. Within a few minutes of the auctions closing I received an email telling me I had won one auction, then another, and another, and another, and another, and another. Six in all! I was breathless with surprise. I felt a bit like the sorcerer’s apprentice in the Disney film, they wouldn’t stop coming.

Although I was pleased my strategy had worked, how on earth would I explain this ‘success’ to my ever loving husband? I really hadn’t expected to win any actually, the bidding was quite fast towards the end and I couldn’t tell whether mine had been successful. I knew the auction conditions do not allow cancellation of bids, so six cases of wine were instantly winging their way to me. I decided to send him an email, much easier to explain the finer details than face to face explanation – no I’m not a coward, but he is profoundly deaf and all that entails …

Darling Good news, I have ‘won’ several Virgin wine auctions, average price £4.0729 a bottle. The bad news is we will have to find enough space as I have been rather more successful than I expected … Good news also, we won’t have to buy any wine for a few months … Just don’t be surprised when several boxes arrive … L/Kate, your rather too successful wine auction bidder!!!

I received what I thought was a fantastic reply:

We could ask the family to look after the excess. Well done!

Decanting red wine of any origin always improves it

Decanting red wine of any origin always improves it

How supportive is that? Actually I wouldn’t trust the family to look after the excess … too much of a temptation, so we will be finding space in the garage. I wonder whether I would be just as successful again … reluctantly I have given myself a six month ban before I have another go.  The Virgin Wines promise of a refund if you don’t like the wine  was very reassuring. I hope we like all the wines, but realistically there may well be some we don’t, in which case it will be interesting to see how the system works. One bonus that popped into my mind, with the cost of the cases being so reasonable we might consider giving some as Christmas presents, but then again …

Kate Campbell


A Snowdrop to Die for! Elizabeth Harrison

Galanthus woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’

Galanthus woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’

How exciting to hear we may all be able to have a very special snowdrop in our gardens in the near future. Last Thursday Thompson & Morgan won at auction the world’s most expensive snowdrop Galanthus woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’.

Costing £725 Thompson & Morgan will now set about commercial production via tissue culture, no easy task.

When  T&M bought the world’s first Black Hyacinth Midnight Mystique in 1998 it took 15 years before it was available to gardeners.

Galanthus nivalis

Galanthus nivalis

To celebrate T&M are offering 75 bulbs of Galanthus nivalis, a single flowered snowdrop, for £7.99, that’s less than half the usual price. Click here to view details.

Snowdrops always give a lift to the spirits in the depths of winter – the promise of warmer times to come.

Val Reynolds, Editor


Revised Planting Plan for 2012 – In Praise of Plug Plants

Lady in Black - Double flowered fast climbing fuchsia

Lady in Black - Double flowered fast climbing fuchsia

Isn’t it amazing how quickly sometimes plans have to be revised?

I’ve had to devise new plan where we will be using plug plants from established plant growers via the post for our front garden instead of growing from seed. Why plug plants? Four reasons: you know when they will be arriving, when you receive them they are well established, they take off like billyo and they have labels!

Why the new plan? With the prospect of our conservatory being turned upside down to store furniture from the sitting room and elsewhere in the house, because we are having some plasterwork and then redecoration done, I realised my seed planting plan was in peril because it’s in the conservatory where I grow all my plants from seed.

This is what is on order from: Thompson & Morgan

Foxglove illumination

Foxglove Illumination Thompson & Morgan

From Gardening Direct: Some beautiful scented begonias and some Monet coloured petunias for the hanging basket
From Crocus: some fabulous sweet peas
From Homebase: I’ll be getting some shamrock and some beautiful chocolate cosmos as recommended by Jo Swift.

In between these I’m going to fit in two tall supports for some sweet peas my sister will be growing for me in her greenhouse. And I’ll have to rearrange some of the existing plants, either moved into the back garden or given away.

Fabulous sweet peas from Crocus

Fabulous sweet peas from Crocus

In some ways being pushed into adapting to a new plan has been easier than planning from scratch. Having ultimate choice in daunting. All I have to do now is make sure the plants are sited so they don’t fight with each other over space nor clash in colour.

Other plug plants I’m expecting for the back garden include celery, onion, brussel sprouts, cabbage, sweet corn, beetroot – all except the onion will be grown under protective netting to keep the pigeons from guzzling the lot! The brussel sprouts I grew from seed last year have been very successful, we still have some to eat now in early February. The kale is still giving leaves to cook but the leeks are frozen solid in the ground.

So, onwards and upwards! Gardening is a joyful occupation that gives me so much pleasure and lots of challenges.

Val Reynolds, Editor


A View from the London Fringe Theatre

Mme Tussaud, photo Tim Parker

Mme Tussaud, photo Tim Parker

Readers familiar with my contributions to In Balance magazine will know I’m not the greatest fan of formal, expensive West End plays, nor of the plethora of crowd-pleading musicals that come and go. So as usual, I have been spreading my theatre-going activity amongst the smaller stages of the London’s fringe theatres.

New venues pop up from time to time, and it was one of these, that had albeit been in existence for a little while unbeknown to me, that I visited recently. It’s the New Diorama Theatre, tucked just off the busy Euston Road in Regent’s Place, a new development of offices and housing which has a pleasant village-like feel about it. I was pleased to learn from the charming members of staff there that there is a statutory obligation to include a community space in such new developments, which is how the theatre came into being. It has, of course, a cafe cum snack restaurant which hits all the right modern buttons, lots of organic stuff, herbal teas and sausages made from happy free-ranging pigs!

But back to the theatre. The production I saw was Waxing Lyrical, the story of Marie Tussaud, a one-woman show featuring Judith Paris who I have watched performing other such shows in the past about different women, each one mesmerizing. This tale of the enterprising wax-worker from Switzerland, to France and the revolution of 1789 and beyond, and then to her life in England was both informative and entertaining.

A Walk On Part – The Fall of New Labour PosterOn to the Soho Theatre in Dean Street to see the excellent adaption of Chris Mullin MP’s diaries entitled: A Walk On Part – The Fall of New Labour. Another excellent evening out, with a very talented actor taking the part of the writer, and four others playing a total of 96 parts! Not quite an impressions show, but close sometimes; you have to commend an actor who can bring Tony Blair, Tony Benn and Denis Skinner (among others) to the stage, all of them quite convincingly!

Finally that week, to one of my favourite local venues, the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, to see one of their admirable verbatim plays, The Riots. Again, with actors playing several parts each, including politicians, this was not just a worthy exercise but a truly engrossing evening presenting, as they used to say on a now-forgotten US television show ‘just the facts, man’. The Tricycle is not always so serious and worthy, though. They are currently reviving their excellent Stones In Their Pockets, and bringing a new Alan Ayckbourn to their stage in the spring – Neighbourhood Watch runs from 10 April to 5 May.

Needless to say, tickets for all the above productions were very good value for money; and the average for a concessionary ticket was around £10.

And now to an apology. I wrote recently in the pages of this magazine of my outrage at the increase of ticket prices at the newly refurbished Swiss Cottage Odeon, just weeks after its opening. I have since discovered that I was wrong to condemn them thus, but not entirely. It seems that they have adopted the most complicated of ticket pricing systems. So there are indeed relatively cheap seats still, dependent on the time of day, the film you want to see and which of the many screens it’s playing in. But it seems that for the majority of films, the price is quite out of proportion to a simple visit to the cinema; I’m not talking about the live performances of opera or theatre, which, though I have yet to see one, will obviously benefit enormously from the great technological advances the cinema boasts of, but of relatively ubiquitous films that could be viewed at a cinema down the road for almost half the price.

Call me old-fashioned, but I do get a bit fed up with the amounts of choice we have these days. I find it confusing enough to have to choose utility suppliers or simply a type of coffee in a cafe; I’d just like to go to my local cinema and know that all the films in all the screens are the same price!

Jeannette Nelson, Arts Critic

A bit of a culture vulture, Jeannette enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, but her main interest is the theatre. For several years she ran theatre discussion groups for which her MA in Modern Drama together with teaching skills stood her in good stead. She prefers to concentrate on the many off West End and fringe productions as well as that real treasure of the London theatre scene, the National.


Vet’s Receptionist – In charge of a rabbit!

Along with other diverse and mostly unsuccessful jobs, I once held the position of receptionist in a local veterinary clinic. Two months into the job, my experiences had been limited to the care of cats and dogs, and I’d been feeling on fairly safe ground.  This state of comparative complacency was soon to end, with the arrival of my first rabbit patient, and my introduction to the disturbing world of rabbits.

In my extreme youth, my acquaintance with rabbits was strictly limited. I usually met up with them after they had been casseroled with onions and carrots so knew little about their habits and hobbies, but I was also aware of a different breed which had been singled out for its unusually soft and fluffy fur.  This type we didn’t eat; instead we wore its fur, often dyed pale pink or blue and knitted into tiny cardigans to be worn on special occasions, such as birthday parties. So it was that my first real encounter found me woefully unprepared for the hazards involved in rearing a domestic rabbit.

The owners of this particular pet – a charming lady with two young children – brought in their charge in a cardboard carrying case. I was relieved to hear that Bunny was full of verve and vitality, but this was in fact at the heart of the problem.  Bunny was a red-blooded male, and was proving to be too much for his fellow male rabbit with whom it had been expected that he would live in close harmony. His owner, glancing briefly at the children, seemed reluctant to enter into details, but eventually I heard the word ‘castration’, so I presume that some very un-Beatrice Potter type behaviour had been observed, and that this radical step was being proposed to protect the sensitivity of his fellow rabbit.

One of the children, with a catch in her throat, asked about the risks involved in this operation.  I, expecting from the vet the response ‘Oh, almost none’ that was routine for cats and dogs undergoing similar surgery, was shocked and alarmed to hear the vet tell her that general anaesthetics for rabbits are generally regarded as really bad news, and that they have a disturbing tendency to react by turning their toes up. Both children turned white, but the situation at home appeared to be serious enough to warrant risking Bunny’s neck in this way, and an appointment was made for the following day.

Though doubtless sympathetic, you are probably a little vague as to why I was so concerned, so I must explain the procedure on days on which an operation was performed.  At the end of the morning consultation period the vet would go into surgical mode, which usually meant a fourth cup of coffee and the donning of yet another unattractive garment before disappearing into the theatre.  When the deed had been done, both vet and nurse would rush off – notionally to work at another branch but frequently to catch up on the latest fashion to arrive at the local factory outlet – leaving the receptionist to clear up after them, and to keep an eye on the recovering animal.  When it was a cat there was no problem.  Cats are sensible creatures and not given to histrionics, so the occasional ‘There, there’ accompanied by an attempt to stroke them through the bars of the cage usually met with approval, and sometimes quite an enjoyable working relationship could be struck up.  Dogs are all wimps, and lie huddled in a corner trembling and sighing and clearly convinced that their days are numbered, but can sometimes be heartened by being addressed briskly by name.  All animals, as they gradually recover and remember that their last meal was yesterday evening, seem to think it the height of bad manners for me to eat my tuna sandwich in front of them, and occasionally tears will come to their eyes, but I’ve learnt not to be too concerned.  Working in a vets’, you learn to eat when you can – postponing a meal for reasons of tact can result in having to gulp it down later in the day when some poor creature is being given an enema only a few feet away.

I had been happy to be left in charge of dogs and cats, in the knowledge that almost invariably they would recover and could be returned to their owners with great excitement and joy.  It looked as if it might be quite different though for rabbits, and certainly Bunny’s family were thinking along the same lines to judge from their demeanour when they brought him in the following morning.  There were tears in their eyes as they handed him over to me, saying ‘Please take great care of him – we’d be devastated if anything went wrong!’ Horribly aware that Bunny was going to be left in my sole care after the op, I made a final attempt to secure a reprieve for him, but his owner was adamant..

Bunny was duly settled in a cage to await operation time, and retreated to the back, trembling and gazing out with big, sad eyes.  I retreated to the other side of the room and tried to avoid eye contact, just in case my feelings of doom might be transmitted and affect his chances of recovery.  While the nurse was setting up the theatre, I thought I’d better adopt a more pro-active approach and ask the vet for more background information about rabbits.  More bad news followed as I learnt that, apart from their tendency to overreact when faced with anaesthetics, rabbits have to eat constantly and go into a speedy decline if they don’t.  Not for them the usual 12 hour fast, no, they are encouraged to keep putting it away right up to the vital moment, and to resume munching the instant they come round (if they come round!).

Being of a fairly squeamish disposition, and also keen to get my lunch before being compelled to face my responsibilities, I left the theatre, and tried to concentrate really hard on my other duties, such as beating my previous record at Solitaire.  Only too soon though I heard sounds of Bunny being returned to his cage, and of the others preparing to leave the premises.

Keen to show my willingness to face a challenge, I hurried out to catch the vet and press her for more detailed instructions on the care of Bunny, who was now all mine for the next four hours.  In what I thought was a callously offhand manner she replied ‘Oh, just keep him stimulated’ before disappearing out of the door and into her car.

‘Keep him stimulated?’ I muttered to myself as I observed Bunny.  There seemed little scope for that at the moment as he was prostrate on the floor of the cage, doing a reasonable impression of a very dead rabbit, but he surely couldn’t have lost the heart to struggle on in the last couple of minutes?  Advancing a little nearer I was relieved to see some evidence of breathing, and, heartened by this small triumph, I returned to my desk to consider how best to stimulate a rabbit.

Clearly the playing of games was a non-starter, for which I was very relieved.  I reviewed my small repertoire of jokes, but found a surprising number of them began ‘A rabbit went into a bar’, so were probably intended for quite a different audience.  Should I try singing to him, perhaps? Or maybe he’d appreciate a story being read to him?

With a shock I realised that I’d been pondering on this dilemma for some twenty minutes, during which Bunny might have given up all hope.  With a rapidly beating heart I returned to his cage, but thankfully there were still unmistakeable signs of life. No one could have called him animated but at least he was now the right way up though showing no signs of getting to his feet and making for his lunch.  Uneasily I reflected that it must now be around three hours since he’d last eaten – for how much longer could he survive?

Clearly stimulation was the thing. Still with no clear idea of what form this might take I edged closer to his cage, and to my consternation saw Bunny react with obvious terror, backing as far as he could into the corner furthest from his food. I reversed out of the room, but dared not leave him for long in case fear pushed him over the edge while I wasn’t there to look after him.  The image of his stricken family appeared before me, and I could almost hear the recriminations. Could I live with myself if I allowed this poor Bunny to die in my care? The responsibility weighed very heavily on me (though actually that might have been partly the really huge baguette I’d had for lunch).

Again I peered around the door.  Still alive, still a long way away from his food bowl, and still trembling. What a quandary! How could I stimulate an animal who almost passed out with fright whenever I got within ten feet of his cage? The situation became almost farcical as I spent the next half hour alternately retreating from the room, then, bent double, creeping back in, just far enough for him to see me, but not close enough to strike terror into his little heart. It might perhaps have looked a little odd, but at least I felt that I was doing something constructive.  Certainly he was managing to cling to life, but still not a stalk had passed his lips.  How could I explain this to his family, those poor children? How would it affect them?  Would they no longer trust anyone, play truant from school, and wind up living in doorways in London all because of the trauma of losing a dear one?

I could stand the responsibility no longer. With a shaking hand I dialled our other branch, and to my relief it was answered by a nurse with years of experience. She of all people would know what to do.

‘This rabbit,’ I said, ‘I’m making no progress with him.  He never stops trembling and hasn’t eaten for hours!!’  I could hear my voice sounding hysterical.  ‘What can I do? I’ve tried everything I can think of!’

Gentle and reassuring she replied ‘Is he upright?’

I dashed over to have another look, risking another fit of the wobblies by Bunny.

‘Yes, but he’s not walking and he’s not eaten a thing and he has to keep eating or he’ll die!’

‘Oh, he’ll be alright, as long as he’s upright he’ll be alright now,’ she replied, ‘he’ll start eating again when he’s ready’.

‘But I was told I had to stimulate him to keep him alive?’

Her only reply was to collapse into waves of laughter, and I put the phone down.

A little later when the vet returned I met her at the doorway.

‘He’s OK!’ I said. ‘He’s still alive!’

‘Who?’ she said, walking past me and putting on the kettle.  ‘Hey, look at this Armani dress I got, for less than a third of the real price!’

My responsibilities over for the day, it was time for me to go home. I took a last look at Bunny.  Still he crouched in the corner of his cage, his food untouched, but he’d stopped trembling and his eyes –  calm, clear and bright – met mine. Bunny was absolutely fine, it seemed, but someone had been making a monkey out of me.

Janet Eaglestone, contributing author

Garden – New Plants and Sundries for 2012

My favourite garden press event was held this month and try as I might I didn’t get to visit all the stands I wanted but the ones I did visit were very rewarding.

Scented begonias from Gardening DirectMy intention was to source plants for the front garden and give it a completely new look this year and I found some great new plants. Beautiful Monet coloured petunias for the hanging basket and scented begonias for the front of the bed from Gardening Direct, excitingly coloured sweet peas from Kings and from Thompson & Morgan for the Garden Maypoles  I have been promised by Haxnicks.  Jo Swift suggested white shamrock from Homebase and a wonderful chocolate cosmos that he has chosen for the Chelsea Flower Show garden he has designed for Homebase. I’ll definitely get that cosmos it’s the one plant I can’t resist – they will be available in store from March.

Although the front garden is only 26 ft x 12 ft I still felt the pressure of choosing plants in terms of height, spread and of course colour. So I was really pleased to find Plantify – an inspiring, free online garden design tool available to everyone that I will be using it to redesign the front garden.


Fairy Magnolia Blush

This year Crocus has some absolutely gorgeous new plants on offer – one in particular Fairy Magnolia Blush looks absolutely wonderful, as does the white with blue back anemone Wild Swan  – if only I had a bigger garden! And the Forest Series of hepaticas look absolutely beautiful, hope I can fit some in.

Spencer sweet peas from Crocus

Spencer sweet peas from Crocus

And just look at these sweet peas from Crocus – irresistible!

At the event I was given far more packets of seeds from Thompson & Morgan, Homebase and Kings than I could ever use so if you would like a packet or two just send a stamped addressed envelope to me. There is a range of flower and vegetable seed, if you would like one or the other, or both, just write veg and/or flower on the back of the envelope.

My grafted tomato plants grew so well last year only to be cut down in their prime by blight that I had moreorless given up on the idea of home grown tomatoes because once blight, a disease of the foliage and fruit causing rotting, is in the soil it is difficult to avoid further contamination.

Quadgrow Slimq

Quadgrow Slim

Then I came across the Quadgrow Planter. It has four pots that sit in a reservoir of water, taking away the possibility of erratic watering. It’s possible to link it direct to a water source either mains water or a water butt. I plan on siting it on a path in a south facing part of the garden. I’m hoping that particular cunning plan will mean blight won’t get a look in with the plants getting a steady supply of water and nutrients.

I have been promised some grafted tomato plants that have two varieties on each plant! Sounds really exciting.

My Heath Robinson style protection for the brassicas worked really well last year, deterring the pigeons and cabbage white butterflies, even though the netting was not wide enough and I had to use additional netting. This year I’ll be trying out a crop cage from Greentree Products that should work much better. Easy to fix clips and netting ties sound very attractive. Greentree are also supplying a Grow Cloche to try with one of our metre square raised beds. We’re convinced this will be much better than the hoops and fleece we used last year that has gradually broken down since last autumn.

The Insect Hotel

The Insect Hotel

Absolutely fascinated by insects, I was taken with the insect house from Neudorf, available on the web. One is on its way and I’m looking forward to observing what uses its 5 star bedrooms! The mason bees love a pipe filled with nesting tubes I’ve had for year and are fascinating to watch – see short video. I’m hoping for a wider range of insects this year that will give more photographic opportunities.

My gardening shoes have given me really good service for the last 17 years and I decided to replace them with a pair of Backdoor shoes. I chose ones with the bluebell print but as you will see on their website there are many other flower designs to choose from.

A range of gardening gloves were on offer and I thought it was time to replace a pair of Skoma gloves I’ve used continuously for the past three years and have seen better days. I liked them because they were flexible, wicked away perspiration, and gave me sensitivity, lacking in some gloves where you can’t feel anything. They survived frequent washing in the washing machine, but recently they have hardened a little and so I’ll be test driving three different levels of protection from Joe’s gloves – all rather brightly coloured – at least they won’t get lost in the compost bin. And a pair from Ethel Gloves, made from goatskin and bamboo, referred to as the little black dress of gardening! I have to admit they are rather stylish, I’m tempted to just use them for driving!

A rolling composter, one that be kept at ground level and pushed backwards and forwards to aerate your compost is by far the fastest way of creating compost – ready in six weeks!  I’ll be trying out the Rollmix Composter and will write about how it works for us.

As you can imagine I had rather a lot to get home and was glad to reach my comfy chair by the fire, have a quick snooze and dream about the garden this year.

Val Reynolds, Editor


Gorgeous Scent in the Garden in deepest winter

Visiting the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh about this time last year I was captivated by the headiest scent wafting across a path. Some yards away I found the source, it turned out be the flowers of hamamelis. The bed of bushes was vast which accounts for the strength of the scent, they usually grow up to about four metres high. If only I had the space!

Hamamelis - Witch Hazel

Hamamelis - Witch Hazel

The common name for Hamamelis is witch hazel, not related at all to hazel nut plants. Over the centuries it has been used medicinally for treating insect bites and bruises, it helps to shrink and contract blood vessels back to normal size, useful for treating haemorrhoids. It is also used in treating acne.

There are several varieties to choose from. Here the Thompson & Morgan description of : Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Westerstede’, Witch Hazel  Hardy Shrub 

During the bleak winter months, this deciduous shrub bears an explosion of golden blooms. The sweetly scented, shaggy flowers of Hamamelis intermedia ‘Westerstede’ cling resiliently to its leafless twigs. The summer foliage of Witch Hazel forms a simple backdrop for summer flowering perennials, before turning to vibrant shades of brilliant orange and red in autumn. This majestic specimen shrub is ideal for adding colour and interest to mixed borders and woodland gardens throughout the year.

Height and spread: 4m (13’).  Flowering Period: January, February  Position: sun or semi shade
1 plant in 9cm pot   Despatch: By end of Mar 2012  £12.99

It was in the same gardens that the Queen Mother memorial garden is sited – I was really taken with the shell designs, the best I’ve seen – pictures below.

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Val Reynolds Brown, Editor


Just irresistible! Clotted Cream Ice Cream from Cornwall

Can you imagine missing the chance to try some mouthwatering brandy butter ice cream? We did!

We were sent vouchers to redeem for ice cream and mislaid them. By the time they were found the brandy butter ice cream season had passed … So instead we went for the plain clotted cream variety. Oh dear! Big mistake! Why? Because we now are besotted with clotted!

We have always managed to squeeze in a small portion of something sweet after our dinner and now the clotted cream ice cream is central to our desire.

Oh yum! Irresistible!

Oh yum! Irresistible!

We swirl some fruit juice, or alcoholic concoction such as cointreux, or even tia maria, or sloe gin, over a small dollop, add a little unsweetened low fat greek yogurt for contrast, and on a special occasion add a chocolate or shortbread biscuit. The mixes are endless, we sometimes add fresh fruit, stewed fruit especially apricots, toasted sliced almonds, crunchy chopped hazelnuts that only heighten our anticipation.

OK, so we’re nuts! So what! We make the portions as small as possible, and we use a teaspoon to eat it!

So there you have it. Two very happy, clotted cream addicts, nearly every day.

We’re looking forward to next November when the brandy butter ice cream will be available once more. Think we’ll stock up with a tub or two, or more!

In the meantime the next visit to the supermarket will include buying another flavour – Clotted Cream and Strawberries. Oh God … there’s even another one – Clotted Cream and Honeycomb.

Not sure we should tell you this, the ice cream is made in Cornwall. The website  has lots of recipes. Leave some for us!

By the way there is a competition to win some Devon made Raspberry Lemonade …
Val Reynolds Brown, Editor


Call The Midwife author, Jennifer Worth’s Fight with Eczema

Jennifer Worth, author of Call the Midwife – currently a hugely successful TV series – sadly died just before filming began in 2011.

Some seven years previously she had contacted me offering a feature about the severe eczema she had developed at the age of fifty five and her efforts to relieve it.

The first line was startling: Severe eczema doesn’t kill you; it just drives you insane.

Written in much the same style as her books the feature chronicles the development and relief of the eczema she experienced.

Jennifer Worth at the worst of her eczema

Jennifer Worth at the worst of her eczema

I developed eczema for the first time when I was fifty five. Within three short months two tiny patches of eczema on my legs had spread to cover my entire body. It is the itching that drives you mad. I would scratch the whole night long until I drew blood, then it would begin to hurt, but the pain was infinitely preferable to the itching.

Dermatologists could only offer steroids. These helped a little, but the itch came back worse than ever afterwards. I was in despair, until I happened to eat a Chinese meal, which gave me food poisoning and I did not eat for four days. During that time my eczema virtually cleared up. When I started eating again it came back. The cause was obvious – food allergy. 

The dermatologists told me it was coincidence, as in their view there was no connection between food and eczema. But I was not convinced and searched every path for the offending foods – with no success. Let me say here that most people fail if they try to identify food allergies alone. It is too complex for the layman and you need an allergy specialist, a qualified nutritionist or at least a reputable book to follow.

Eczema on Jennifer's arms

Eczema on Jennifer's arms

I was fortunate in finding the right specialist, who guided me through a strict elimination diet. Once we had found the right diet, my skin cleared within three weeks. Then he led me through the challenge/reintroduction phase of the diet, which was very difficult and troubled by many pitfalls. After about six months, my skin was completely clear and I felt wonderful. Incidentally a side effect of an elimination diet is a surge of good health. Eliminating dairy products, gluten, yeast, sugars and chemical additives from your body can only be beneficial. We all eat the wrong things and suffer for it.

My specialist advised me to have a course of Enzyme Potentiated Desensitisation (EPD) because, he told me new allergies would develop. I have had EPD – see below –  twice a year for nearly ten years and my skin remains perfect, for which I thank God every day of my life.

Clear of eczema

Clear of eczema

The charity Action Against Allergy asked me to write a book about my experiences detailing the elimination diet given me by my specialist. I was asked for this because there is so little information available on this subject. My book Eczema and Food Allergy was published in 1997 and featured in the Nursing Times, the Sunday Telegraph and the magazine Here’s Health. It sold out of two editions and last year they decided to republish online – see below. 

This is a very controversial subject. Doctors, dieticians and even the National Eczema Society will state that eczema is not connected to food. But I have proved that it is.

Jennifer after treatment

Jennifer after treatment

In this article, I have deliberately refrained from giving any advice to eczema sufferers about diet. It would be rash and irresponsible for me to do so, because the subject is far too complex for a short article. But my book contains all the details necessary for a successful elimination diet and includes many addresses for specialist treatment. My heart goes out to anyone afflicted with severe eczema. I know the suffering involved and it is beyond description. If my experience can be of help to anyone, I am well pleased.

Many people have asked me what EPD is; how does it work, where can you get it, and what does it cost? It is a very subtle and complex medical process, and I give below a brief summary of what it is about.

Enzyme Potentiated Desensitisation is a form of immunotherapy developed by Dr. L. M. McEwen in the 1960s and now used worldwide. It has the potential to desensitise anyone to the allergens to which they are allergic. This includes foods, dust, animals, birds, grasses, pollens, moulds, and many chemicals. An ultra-low dose of allergen is used – approximately 1/1000 part of a routine skin-prick test – combined with the natural enzyme beta-glucuronidase which enhances, or potentiates the desensitisation process (thus we get the rather curious name). It is particularly effective for the treatment of eczema, and will work quickly for children – the younger the child the quicker it will work. It takes about 2-5 years to be effective for an adult.

EPD is only available on the NHS at the Royal Homeopathic Hospital (60 Great Ormond Street, London W1N 3HR). Dr Michael Jenkins, Consultant Allergist will see patients via a referral from their GP. EPD has a ‘Specials’ licence. This means it is accessible only to suitably accredited doctors to supply on a ‘named’ patient basis. The doctor must be a qualified MD trained in allergies, and who is specially trained to hold a licence to administer EPD.

There are about twenty such doctors in the country, and their names and addresses can be obtained from the British Society of Allergy and Environmental Medicine, PO Box No. 7, Knighton LD7 1WT Phone: 01547 550378; Web site: This is a charity which will give you the address of your nearest medical practitioner of both EPD and Neutralisation. An adult course of EPD, lasting about five years, will cost around £2000, but far less for a child. This may seem a lot, but, believe me, EPD is worth a second mortgage.

In my book ‘Eczema and Food Allergy’ I devote two chapters to EPD, which gives far more detail than I can give here.

Eczema and Food Allergy is available in print from Merton Books

Jennifer Worth, born 25 September 1935 died 31 May 2011, was a nurse, midwife and ward sister from 1954-1973.

Her book Call the Midwife about her years as a district midwife in the slums of London’s East End is published by Orion Books There is an interview with Jennifer talking to Danuta Kean about writing her books on that web page.

Two more books Shadows of the Workhouse and Farewell to the East End make up a trilogy. All three books have sold almost a million copies and stimulated a publishing subgenre of nostalgic true life stories.

You can watch a short video interview where she talks about her nursing career and working with the nuns in the East End of London.

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor

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