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Visiting Gardens – A Great Pasttime

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.

Young villager, Isabella Potter, helping to prepare the garden of the late Sir Hardy Amies

Young villager, Isabella Potter, helping to prepare the garden of the late Sir Hardy Amies

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


Super Strength Cat Repellent

Florence, a 12 year old cat, fostered by Laura

Florence, a 12 year old cat, fostered by Laura

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
Hilliers group
Haskins group
All good garden centres

Val Reynolds, Editor


Buy British Innovative Light Bulb and save on energy costs

Groove Bulb packaging

Groove Bulb packaging

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
Instantly ‘on’
No flicker
Provides a clear white light – good for reading and activities involving small detail much easier
They are dimmable
Mercury free
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

Groove Bulb Fact Sheet

Groove Bulb Fact Sheet

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.


Yes – what’s not to like?!

The Groove Bulb  can be purchased exclusively via the website:

*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


When did you last polish your shoes?

Cherry Blossom Polish lids on production line

Cherry Blossom Polish lids on production line

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.

A pair of miners' boots after one has been renovated with Granger product

A pair of miners’ boots after one has been renovated with Granger product

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.

Clothing proofing

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!

Some of the Cherry Polish product range

Some of the Cherry Polish product range

Val Reynolds, Editor

Photography © Pintail Media


Verbascum, Cottage garden hardy perennials

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.

Verbascum Clementine flowering in May 2012

Verbascum Clementine flowering in May 2012

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.

Verbascum Blue Lagoon

Verbascum Blue Lagoon

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.

Pink Pixie 2012 Verbascum

Pink Pixie 2012 Verbascum

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


Not as Lively as I would like, How it all Began

A traditional ‘who did what and what became of them’ story, How it All Began is an easy read that doesn’t really challenge the intellect. I found it only mildly amusing – a candidate for ‘pick up when bored’ book status. Definitely not on the compulsive can’t put it down list, I think it could be referred to as a pot boiler on a rating of 5 on the 1-10 scale. I have to say she is good at character studies, but I didn’t like any of the characters and found little pleasure in her artful descriptions.

Written much in the same style as Mary Wesley but not as memorable or engaging. My memory of Mary’s Jumping the Queue and subsequent books that continued the theme of an illicit love affair, still makes me smile, eighteen years later, and I know if I re-read it I would love it. So, would I be interested in reading more of Lively’s books, I’m afraid not, I’m seldom bored.
The Penelope Lively website gives details of her background and all her books.
How It All Began is published by Penguin
Val Reynolds, Editor

Tutus in your Garden – Miss Huish – A Beautiful Aquilegia

Miss M I Huish, aquilegia vulgaris

Miss M I Huish, aquilegia vulgaris

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.

Green Apples, aquilegia vulgaris

Green Apples, aquilegia vulgaris

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


A Decent Read – suggestions for a quiet break

How often are you at a loss to know where to find a good book. What is a good book? To me it’s one I can lose myself in. All the angst of the day goes to the back of my mind. So a book at bedtime is a joy and pleasure. But I’m not prepared to read books that don’t satisfy my curiosity, don’t stimulate my interest, or from which I learn nothing new.

So we have decided to provide our assessment of books we have enjoyed, or not. Short, pithy asides and plaintive squeals of dismay are included, so you don’t have to waste time turning off at page ten. That’s the crunch time for us … unless page eleven beckons that tome is passed on to Oxfam, or some such charity shop where maybe someone will view our assessment with disdain and totally disagree with us!

Here are three books all read and finished and assessed by Les Tucker, our intrepid bookaholic.

A Small Circus  Hans Fallada* One of the Penguin Classics ISBN 978-0-141-19655-8 *Other books by Fallada

Do not read A Small Circus expecting a similar experience to the later Alone in Berlin.  Fallada’s portrait of life in wartime Berlin is a universal tragedy which is impossible to ignore.

A Small Circus, published in 1931, is just that: a much more parochial examination of politics in a small town.  It is a local eye’s view of the collapse of the Weimar Republic  (Germany’s first democracy) leaving a situation ripe for the rise of National Socialism, and subsequently, the promotion of Hitler.

The book is not a dry history.  It is full of sardonic humour, as pompous local officials tussle over bribes and ill-gotten gains.  Outside the little town, the country is spinning off its axis, but a greedy bunch of politicians and journalists seem not to care.

The greater proportion of the novel is written in dialogue, so there is no authorial voice.  In many ways, this worked to Fallada’s advantage, as his breakthrough novel received praise from both sides of the political spectrum. It appeared as if he was not taking sides, although a modern reader might beg to differ.

A Small Circus may not make you laugh very often, but it might have you nodding with agreement at the portrayal of human foibles and frailties.

  Noughties  Ben Masters  Published by Penguin ISBN  978-0-241-14526-5

Ben Masters’ novel is helpfully divided into three sections, entitled; “Bar”,  “Club” and “Pub”.   My advice to the reader would be to stay in the Bar !

Imagine a dodgy episode of Skins combined with a literary pub quiz and half an episode of Morse chucked in for good measure.

This is Oxford, but beyond the colleges, overheated young things are drinking themselves into oblivion, clumsily bonking each other, but then spoiling the whole experience by agonising about it!

Noughties is a Top Trumps pack of literary references and allusions.  Forget about the narrative, just play spot the disguised quotation.  The protagonist, Eliot Lamb (get it?) is trying to resolve the dilemma of his love life.  As his journey to the light includes such evocative meetings with the opposite sex as, “She places her warm breath inside mine..” one can only hope it is achieved speedily.

There are lots of topical music references and characters spend an inordinate amount of time texting.  You don’t need to join Eliot Lamb in his final days at Oxford to enjoy the richness of that experience !  Try the Open University.

  The Pale King  David Foster Wallace   Penguin   ISBN  978-0-141-04673

Did you ever read the one about the American Internal Revenue Regional Examinations Centre ?   No … and I wonder how many people will actually finish The Pale King.  The author didn’t, as he died in 2008 before it was completed.  This edition has been assembled and published by his editor, Michael Pietsch.

Try this chapter opening :

“Until mid-1987, the IRS’s attempts at achieving an integrated data system were plagued with systemic bugs and problems, many of these exacerbated by Technical Branch’s attempts to economise by updating older Fornix keypunch and card-sorter equipment to handle ninety-six column Powers cards instead of the original eighty-column Holleriths.”   Come on … keep up !

Wallace is feted as a truly great writer, especially in his love for precision and meaning.  This unfinished work is about boredom and sadness, but as it stands it is too great a challenge to the reader.  The tedium of the daily tasks of the IRS is plain enough.  It is detailed in well over 500 pages.  There are jokes, lots of jokes, strange observations, descriptions, and even characters, but this is still a novel about tediousness, and it is act of daring to leave the reader to extract from it the individual stories within.  For many, the doors of the tax return processing centre will remain closed. For the legions of Wallace’s admirers, this unfinished work may well achieve the status of an icon.  If you enjoy James Joyce, you’ll love this.  If not, then tax avoidance may be the answer.

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