Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Environmental Issues’ Category


Growing food successfully at home

Anyone who grows some of their own food will know that success is a moveable feast!

Two years ago my attempt at growing tomatoes outdoors was a failure. The garden is very windy and the ground just didn’t get warm enough for the plants to develop, so in 2015 tomatoes were indoors, link to the feature.

Two Ailsa Craig plants in the centre

Two Ailsa Craig plants in the centre

However growing indoors allows access to juicy morsels to unwanted creatures without the usual predators to control them. Always wanting to use natural deterrents I keep a pyrethrum based spray handy.  However disaster struck when I inadvertently used the wrong spray.


I had nurtured this pelargonium over the winter, now on its way to the great composter in the sky

What happened? I noticed a couple of little flies in the conservatory, the kind that lay eggs in the soil and the grubs eat the roots and the plants die. So I rushed around looking for the pyrethrum can, found it and sprayed assiduously all the plants and seedlings. To my absolute horror I realised I had used a weedkiller spray instead. I rushed around again, found the water spray and desperately watered.

Tagetes to go in the kitchen garden as a pest attractor, sadly has to go to the bin

Tagetes to go in the kitchen garden as a pest attractor, sadly has to go to the bin

To no avail, within 24 hours little brown spots had appeared on some of the leaves and over the next week everything was on the way out. There was nothing for it but to start again.

Broccoli and globe artichokes

Broccoli and globe artichokes, all doomed

I contacted Delfland Nurseries who raise organic vegetable plugs and they sent me basil, chilli, sweet peppers and squash replacements. I resowed tagetes, nigella and limnanthes to serve as companion plants. If you are keen to find out about using plants as decoys to insects like black fly and attract pollinators like bumblebees and overfills, have a look the guide provided on the Thompson & Morgan website, from which you will see basil is a good companion plant for tomatoes, as are chives and mint.

Companion plants in the vegetable garden, notice the seat!

Companion plants in the vegetable garden, notice the seat, essential for contemplation!

We grow a lot of companion plants every year and will do the same this year –  nasturtiums, a great space filler and colourful companion plants germinate without any help from us from last year’s seed!

Half the plugs Delfland grow are organic own vegetable plugs and each month you can choose a ‘selection pack’ of brassicas, salads, glasshouse or herbs and more. Here’s a link to the ordering options.

For those of you who find the planning of seed sowing and remembering to keep to the schedule a hassle, will find these plugs so useful when you have run out of space for early sowings or when you don’t want a whole packetful of plants from seed raising.

Delfland now have bedding and other plants for sale as well as ready-made hanging baskets and pots planted in various colour schemes – now that appeals to us!

This has to be one of the best websites we have found for gardeners who enjoy growing their own vegetables. Delfland provide really good quality plants and great service. Do have a look!

Val Reynolds, Editor


Grow Your Own Climbing Strawberries, Indoors or Out

Climbing Strawberry Mount Everest © Thompson & Morgan

Climbing strawberries with a fruiting period from June to September, now there’s a thing!

In 2008 we wrote an article about the Thompson & Morgan strawberry Mount Everest. It grew well for us and our readers. We had six plants to grow and hoped for great things, especially to make jam.

This year we will be trying Strawberry Skyline with climbing stems and dangling fruit from every runner! The perfect option for anyone short on space, the climbing habit also brings other added benefits – you can get to the fruit before the slugs do, there’s no need for straw to keep the ripening fruits off the soil, and no back-breaking bending to pick your crop. Plant in the soil under trellis or pea netting, or grow on the patio with the T&M Towerpot® climber system for easy access to the fruits. We will be using the Towerpot this year in the conservatory and in the greenhouse as a comparison.

Skyline T&M climbing strawberry

Skyline T&M climbing strawberry

Our 2014 strawberry growing was not a huge success. Here in Cumbria we have a shorter growing season than further south. So in 2015 we decided to grow our strawberries in the glazed entry hall to offset the lower temperatures outside.

T&M Flamenco everbearing strawberry

For Flamenco another T&M everbearing strawberry, we used strawberry bags. They grew well, had a wonderful harvest which the mice and slugs relished so they were moved into a glazed link between the stables and the coach house*. They did well there.

We tried Eternal Love a variety from Lubera that went on and on fruiting right up to the first frosts. We have kept a dozen runners to grow on, the fruit tasted really good. This year we are trying another Lubera variety, Fraisibelle. All kinds of soils and conditions seem to suit it from light to heavy soil, partial shade to full sun.

As always we travel optimistically and have visions of rows of strawberry jam in the larder! We managed some what we called freezer jam. Much simpler than conventional jam making, although it produces a soft rather than a very firm set. There are easy instructions on the Certo recipes webpage. The ‘jam’ is so tasty and delicious on ice cream, cereal, and in cakes. We always make sure there is always some Certo in the cupboard year round. So this year it’ll be delicious freezer strawberry jam again and maybe even ice cream made from unsprayed homegrown fruit!

IMG_9166 - Version 2 copy*Why not come and visit us? We have converted our 1700’s old stone built coach house into a self contained warm and cosy cottage for holiday lets, short and long, any time of year. Here is a link –  we grow many different companion plants and insect attractive flowers to maximise our fruit and veg in the kitchen garden. Do come! We love talking gardening!

Companion plants in the vegetable garden, notice the seat!

Companion plants in the kitchen garden, note the seat!





Val Reynolds Brown, Editor


British Tomato Week 2015 is now!

The delicious red fruit used to be one of Britain’s most beloved.  But are you one of those who think tomatoes don’t taste quite as good as they used to? This may be because three quarters of the tomatoes bought in this country are now imported.

British Tomato Week has been set up to raise awareness of flavoursome British tomatoes, and help spread the word that when it comes to choosing the best, buying fresh, home-grown British tomatoes is a great place to start.

Tomato Week afternoon tea at Lancaster, London

Tomato Week afternoon tea at Lancaster, London

To celebrate British Tomato Week Lancaster London Hotel are offering a Tomato Week themed Afternoon Tea priced at £30 per person, which will include savoury delights made with the freshest British tomatoes, including Tomato bread, Tomato scones and Tomato sorbet. Looks yummy!

Island Grill restaurant on Hyde Park has created a special three course set menu, priced at £12.50 for two dishes or £15.50 for three courses.

However, like me, you might have some tomato plants on the windowsill or in a greenhouse. Many gardeners manage to grow them outside but up here in Cumbria the wind and lower temperatures mean indoors is the only option. I did try some outside last year but the plants were pretty much an unproductive experiment.

Two Ailsa Craig plants in the centre

Two Ailsa Craig plants in the centre

So this year I purchased two Ailsa Craig plants. Noted for the exceptional flavour of its fruit, which ripens early in the season this well known gardener’s favourite produces medium sized tomatoes with a uniform size and shape and an excellent deep colour.

Ailsa Craig

Ailsa Craig

Another popular tomato popular with gardeners and which has an RHS AGM*, Alicante, was available from a local nursery and I have placed both varieties in a glazed entry hall.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 16.02.40

Alicante tomato

They are growing apace, in fact one Ailsa Craig has grown half an inch in 24 hours I noted this morning! I only know that because I marked the support strings yesterday just to see what rate of growth might be in the sunny and warm hall. I didn’t expect such a surge!

I have another three pots of a tomato Crimson Crush, a new entrant on the tomato market from Suttons in the conservatory that only has sun from about noon and I’ll be interested to see if there is any difference in growth rate. They are going into grow bags.

Crimson Crush

Crimson Crush

I know of course I may well be awash with tomatoes and there is a limit to how much time I want to spend bottling and making tomato puree, so much of the crop will go straight in the freezer in bags. To remove the skin easily I just dunk them in hot water, the skins slide off moreorless immediately.

If you are growing tomatoes let us know the variety and their progress … we will probably try different varieties next year.

Val Reynolds, Editor


*Award of Garden Merit


Latest Great Finds – Gardening Shoes and Gloves


My worn out gloves

My worn out gloves

It’s this time of year that seems to stimulate the need to replace worn out gardening stuff and this month I decided to look into replacing my somewhat worn, but much loved, gardening gloves. They have given sterling service, comfortable, not clammy, light, easily washed clean in the machine.41TFg430GVL._SY355_

I wanted a similar lightweight feel and sensitivity and came across this stylist design from Ethel Gloves. They have all the plus features characteristics of my old gloves – two way stretch moisture wicking fabric made from bamboo – plus the added advantages of the wrist cover and a tab to hang them by, genuine goat skin leather palm and reinforced leather fingertips.

I’m rather smitten, in fact they seem almost too good for using the garden but I expect I’ll make the effort!

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 11.56.13

The colourful range to choose from

My gardening slip ons have reached the point of no return with the sole worn thin and the heel at a dangerous angle … Have to say these have taken at least 12 years to reach this state of wear. So I was pleased to come across a range of garden shoes made by a husband and wife team. Titled Backdoor Shoes there is a choice of design and sizes.

I chose the bluebell design and have been happily trotting around in all weathers. Waterproof, washable with removable, washable insoles. Designed for both men and women they are lightweight and very comfortable. Chris Evans was given a pair with the grass design by his wife for Christmas and he loves them.

Their website give more details.

Val Reynolds, Editor


Ten Best Valentine Ideas … and more

We’ve put together our really special  Valentines’ Day ideas for those readers who would welcome some inspiration.

As  Valentine’s Day is on a Saturday this year it gives an opportunity to indulge without the restraint of work next day.

So in no particular order here’s our list for all pockets and strengths of feeling:


Sweet Hermione

If your Valentine adores roses, why not get a 10% discount if you shop before midnight on Sunday 8 February on the Austen Roses website – here’s the offer code VRX. You have a gorgeous choice, Gentle Hermione has a scent described as warm, classic Old Rose scent with a hint of myrrh and its colour pure pink with soft blush on the outside and a lovely pure pink at the centre. Details

If the lady is not a gardener then she might like the David Austin English Rose Triple Wick Scented Candle, or perhaps the English Rose Foam Bath – our absolute favourite. Go on, have a look at other luscious gifts! Details

Wiggly Wigglers Valentine PosyFlowers for ladies are always welcome especially if they are flowers from Wiggly Wigglers who have put together several bouquets for Valentines to choose from. All the flowers are grown in the UK, so no worries about them being flown half way round the world. There is a discount code you can use if you order goods over £40 and you receive a box of Montezuma truffles without charge. Details

71164For the girl who likes unusual decorative touches – heart shaped knobs, coat hooks by Pushka. These clear glass faceted heart cupboard knobs will be around long after flowers have wilted and boxes of chocolates scoffed. This long lasting present of beautiful glass heart knobs will serve as a continual affection reminder. Prices start at £3.50 – definite value for money! Details

344966224_mScreen Shot 2015-02-02 at 13.44.03Chocs don’t have to be  run of the mill these days. We found lots of delightfully designed choices on many websites. Our favourites: Dillies in Cumbria Details  and as always the Lindt selection is irresistible …

Valentines Fudge TreatsAnd fudge – well why not consider a fudge making course at Fudge Kitchen – made selected recipes and you get to take home slabs for later! This will make your present so much more memorable! Courses are held in Bath, York, Cambridge, Windsor, Canterbury, Edinburgh, Oxford and  Ripon.  If you would rather let Fudge Kitchen make the fudge, choose from their Valentine treats – details of products and courses on their website. Take it from us, the fudge is divine!

Hunter 486, The Arch, London © The Arch

Hunter 486, The Arch, London © The Arch

The Arch London hotel’s sumptuous Aphrodisiac Tasting Menu and Be Mine overnight package are designed to make couples fall head over heels, not to mention each other!  Located in a peaceful street in Marylebone, the luxury hotel is the perfect chic retreat for couples looking for a romantic escape. Details

A meal at The Deck  Opening to the public for one night only, The Deck is being transformed into a stunning pop-up restaurant for Valentine’s Day offering spectacular views of the twinkling lights of London for a romantic evening to be treasured.

stvdeckThe Deck, an ultra-cool city chic London venue, is an incredibly popular events space which is not usually open to the general public. It is located on the rooftop of the iconic National Theatre on London’s South Bank, offering breath-taking panoramic views of the city skyline and River Thames. With its unique glass walls and modern cube structure, you even feel as though you are out on deck when you are actually relaxing and drinking up the atmosphere in the warmth of its luxurious restaurant. Details

Chocolate & Morello Cherry Tart on slateConcerned about gluten free foods? Then here’s the perfect opportunity to tuck into gluten free chocolate pastry filled with an indulgent chocolate filling infused with Morello cherries you can get from Ocado and Waitress. NO.G Chocolate & Morello Cherry Tarts cost £2.69 for 115g.

Does your Valentine appreciate luxury foodie goods – for men and women who like luxury tea and coffee British merchant Ringtons has the solution. Exclusive gifts beautifully presented for instance for me the Luxury Great British Tea Infuser Gift Box. There is the Luxury Coffee Expert Gift Box, the ultimate find for a Valentine who is serious about making coffee. There are of course beautiful gifts for the girls! image004Details

For those who prefer to eat a delicious meal at home Sweet potato patties – cooked with love – one of our favourite recipes that we cook and ring the changes according to what leftovers are in the fridge! Honestly it is so easy. Steam the sweet potato, mash up, mix in shredded raw carrot, cooked onion or leek, leftover broccoli perhaps, cumin, or parsley, salt and pepper to your taste, mix in an egg to bind and lightly fry with 1 Cal Spray Fry Light. A sweet could be another easy recipe: put a meringue nest in each bowl, crush it up roughly, add fruit juice, then on top some fruit, with beaten 0% greek yogurt – we like Fage on top, then beaten up Light Philadelphia. Delicious and a very low calorie count. All accompanied by a super champagne or prosecco. Have fun!

normalIs travelling to Cornwall for a night in a hotel feasible? Wonder whether the daffodils are out now at Caerhays, a beautiful 5* gold country house  with luxurious en-suite bedrooms, open fires and spectacular views of the Cornish countryside.  Details

Taking a four day trip into France with your car for only £118 return seems a great way to celebrate Valentine’s. Details

If you feel a distance is worth covering why not consider the Metropole romance in Monte Carlo? Might as well push the boat out for a really special Valentine anniversary!    For details go to their website and click on the Seasonal Offers box in the bottom righthand corner.

gooseberriesIs your Valentine an avid reader? Why not choose a few from the 80 Penguin Little Black Classics to be published to celebrate Penguin’s 80th birthday. The list includes unfamiliar work of well known names, for instance Gooseberries by Anton Chekhov, The Beautiful Cassandra by Jane Austen, Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti, to My Dearest Father by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. At 80p each and 64 pages the Little Black Classics could become a compulsive buy! They are out end of Feb so a gift wrapped book token would seem to be on the cards! Wonder how long it would take to buy them all … Explore, in an amusing imaginative way, the list of titles here.

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 17.14.51Luxury underwear is always a great gift, even if you do get the wrong size! Why not a Gift Card to get round that problem, she gets to choose what she wants and you can look forward to viewing it!  Rigby & Peller offer a personal fitting that makes sure she could indulge in some of the loveliest underwear we have found, certain in the knowledge it fits well and flatters.  They have shops in several cities, not just in London. Details

And finally, how appropriate would two egg cups be depicting Micky Mouse and Minnie Mouse – the archetypal loving couple? Are you like Toast and Tea, Bread and Butter, Minnie and Mickey? Treat your true love with a beautiful breakkie or brunch by using these appealing egg cups! Each egg cup has both characters kissing on it in an old style film black print, there’s one for each of you this Valentines! Available for only £6.95 from

We have to be honest, these appealed to us enormously!

OK so there are more than ten suggestions, what the heck! We loved putting the list together!

Wishing every Valentine every success choosing a super gift that’s sure to please.

Val Reynolds, Editor


Very Last Minute Christmas Gift List

IMG_0961 copySave time at Christmas – let your fingers hit the keyboard!

I really don’t have the time to wander round shops searching for suitable gifts at Christmas, and judging from the retailers, I’m just one of hundreds of thousands who think the web is a wonderful place to wander round instead.

So where to start?

We tend to keep all the Christmas catalogues that arrive in the post and use the ones we like best to choose our gifts. Here are the mail order catalogues we chose this year:

Lakeland, Wiggly Wigglers, Thompson & MorganIMG_0975 copy

Why Lakeland?

What a range of goodies! You may need an evening or two to go through their website, but it’s well worth the time.

Christmas is a time for indulgence and our favourite edible gifts this year were Finlandia fruit jellies and the Glacé fruit tray – the thought of both make your mouth water! Makes a great change from after dinner mints.

51855_1Five minute origami will suit a five year old who loves making things. A nearly impossible jigsaw puzzle will infuriate a brother! A Christmas themed set of skittles will get the teams lined up, to win of course! And we can all dip into the tins of biscuits while we compete for supremacy! There is always a slice of delicious Country Fare Glacé fruit cake on hand.

Only one of the many items we ordered was out of stock and we were able choose another equally scrumptious alternative.

One big feature is the Lakeland no quibble return policy which works! And they make shopping so easy, you can phone and order, visit one of their many outlets, click and collect, send orders in the post, or order direct on line.

Why Thompson & Morgan?

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 14.58.55Nothing marks the start of the gardening season like the first seed sowing of the year. You could give the gardener in your life all they’ll need for the earliest start in 2015. For the fastest seedlings in small batches you’ll want to treat them to the T&M Premium Seed Kit with its seven tray heated propagator. Both the flower and vegetable selections have something for pots, baskets and open soil. The kit includes plant labels and pencil. We use our seed propagator all the time now, wouldn’t be without it – it gives peace of mind – it is so reliable.

Alternatively you could always order some plug plants to be delivered in time for the best planting period.  We have ordered gifts from T&M for several years now and love their indoor plants. This year we particularly like the Christmas Cactus, only £12.99.

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 14.58.06What about a standard Bay Tree to give a classy look to your front door? Every outdoor plant we have ordered from T&M has done well, some are now more than 7 years old – for instance the lemon tree in a pot, now safely in the cool greenhouse.

Order before midday on 19th December for guaranteed delivery in time for Christmas.

Why Wiggly Wigglers?

Here we have a real success story, a farmer and his wife provide a real joy of a catalogue to browse through. Everything a bird feed enthusiast might want, bird nesting boxes, garden composers, composting worms – the worms do the work by the way! We have ordered a terracotta bird nesting box and some roosting pockets for some young children to put up in their garden.

This year we have ordered Goat Sock Gifts. To be on the safe side rather than buy the wrong size sock, why not, in view of the possible very cold weather ahead, buy some bed socks. Honestly they are really so good we each have two pairs to make sure we always have cosy feet every night. Can’t praise them enough. They come in one size which seems to suit everyone we know.

Great British Florist is part of the Wiggly Wigglers organisation and they offer the most beautiful bouquets and wreaths. To receive a monthly bouquet of seasonal British flowers you can subscribe to the monthly flower delivery. This would be an absolutely fantastic gift for someone who just loves fresh flowers that haven’t been flown halfway round the world. We really urge you to look at the website and get more information about their flower club, flower workshops, wedding packages including natural flower petal confetti. Do have a look on the Christmas page on their website – we’ve just ordered a Christmas posy for the Christmas Day table and a wreath for the front door – look for the one with brussel sprouts as part of the design! Last date for guaranteed delivery for Christmas is 22 December – don’t miss out, you won’t regret it!

Gifts for ourselves –  two witch hazel bushes, one yellow and one red. Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 15.57.35I remember a huge hedge of witch hazel plants with a most wonderful perfume in Edinburgh Botanical Gardens and have always wanted one since. We heard they were on the Lubera were selling them – Lubera has a most wonderful plant list.

Grown in SwitzerlandScreen Shot 2014-12-11 at 15.59.14, all their plants are hardy, useful in Cumbria as we can’t cope with tender plants without a lot of care. Recently we now have a damson tree, two pointilla bushes – they provide a most unusual tasty fruit, six raspberry plants both gold and red, and strawberry plants. For more information go to their website – we will soon be writing more about their plants in a separate feature – We Love Lubera!

We always look for unusual decorations for this time of year and found a lovely tealight decoration on the Notcutts website. The Circle of Friends costs just £8.99 and looks wonderful on a windowsill.

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 15.13.22Finally, something for us at Christmas when we’ve had enough food, games and alcohol, a jigsaw to push our brains in active mode! A jigsaw puzzle that will take a lot of time giving lots of fun: a copy of the Heye Jigsaw – 2,000 pieces, Napoleon’s Winter, designed by Jean-Jacques Loup. Here’s a link to browse through.

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 15.13.36We already have copies of Loup’s Noah’s Ark – we loved it so much we did it twice, and the Spaghetti puzzle, both of which we had a great deal of fun and frustration but what a sense of achievement when we completed it with a touch of regret that we didn’t have it to work any more! We might just contemplate the 4,000 piece  Crazy World Cup for next year, but then there is the House of Horror, and the Orchestra designs! Decisions, decisions! By the way we found a source of the Heye puzzles in East Yorkshire, 01287659036.

We are really looking forward to retreating into puzzle mode and forgetting the wintry weather outside. Can’t wait for Christmas Day now!

Right, that’s everything done … now for a swig of that damson gin we put away a month or more ago. It must be ready by now!

We wish you all a very Merry and Happy Christmas.

Val Reynolds and her team


Chuck out that Mop & Bucket … Steam is here to stay!

Hands up those of you who dislike having to mop floor/s? All that cleaning of the mop, or sponge mop is a pain isn’t it?

533591-504501-200Well we think so and when we heard about the Vida Steam Mop we were instantly interested. To offload all that extra rinsing, squeezing and changing water had been but a dream!

With this steam mop all that is gone. All you have to do is add plain tap water to the reservoir, tie on a triangular micro fibre mop head, switch on and hey presto you can clean the floor with very little effort, get into the corners easily round chair legs and under tables.

Leave the floor to dry – much quicker than with the wet mop – put the mop head in the washing machine ready for the next time. It’s that easy!


After cleaning the floor with the Vida mop for the first time

The results on the floor? We have a stone floor, sealed, it holds dirt in the crevices which only a scrubbing brush would remove. The Vida mop coped very well indeed.

IMG_0604 - Version 2

The Vida mop coped well with the stone flagged floor, approximately 21 square metres We only mopped it once

The micro fibre head was pretty dirty after our mop over – the floor has been wet mopped for the last 10 years. Washed later in a 60º programme (important to use liquid detergent) the head came out clean enough to see it could be used next time. Let it dry and hey, job done.


Cleaning in corners is so easy

Positives are:

  • Instructions very easy to follow – how important is that!
  • Easy to use
  • The water heated up quickly


  • We did find the mop head difficult to tie on securely the first time we tried, and it did take a bit of effort to make it tight enough not to rub off. We would like a velcro or an elastic tie on. We would also have liked a second mop head as back up.
  • Emptying the reservoir is a bit awkward.
  • Another suggestion would be to have a clip to hold the plug to the lead when it’s stored away.
  • The lavender coloured loop to help remove the mop head when it’s hot, mentioned in the instructions was not included.

We would like a clip to keep the plug together with the cable

Our rating?

Out of 10? 9, and if our suggestions are taken up, it would be 10!

So does the product checklist work for us?

  • Hi powered chemical free cleaning – YES – this the biggest plus feature for us
  • Extendable arm can be adjusted to suit your height – YES – excellent
  • Ready to use in just 28 seconds -YES – it’s a breeze to assemble!
  • We can’t verify 99% of household bacteria is killed, but with the water heated to 120ºC we can believe it
  • Recommended – YES, highly, try taking it away and we’ll bite your hand off!
  • At £44.99 we think it is well worth it. Available on line of course.

Helen Smith & Jean Jarvis

PS Correction! Keep the mop – we had a flood in the kitchen the other day and we needed to mop up the lake that appeared. So glad we hadn’t thrown the mop out!


Lightweight Gardening Tools

Making light of physical garden work

IMG_0582Our garden has long but not very wide borders. We decided to clear them of unwanted plants and make them deeper and add curves to add interest and decide on a more varied planting. One unwanted plant with very deep roots is Centaurea Montana and some of the beds need a second deeper dig to remove new growth.

The soil is easy to work and after I had a look at our garden tools I realised most of them are heavy, suited to my husband, not me. Also I managed to break the wooden handled spade I have used for years when digging up strawberry plants in a friend’s garden – her soil was quite compacted and harder to work than ours.

IMG_0592When I found it was as expensive to replace the handle as to buy a brand new fork, I had a look at the Fiskars Garden Light range on their website. My husband had recently bought the edging tool which I found light and easy to use and wanted to see what else was available.

Weighing only 1.4 kg each, I decided on the fork and spade. Each have lightweight, plastic coated aluminium shafts designed to reduce back strain and make garden work lighter. Just as attractive with regards to weight, the rake and patio broom just had to be added to the list!

I already had Fiskars secateurs and multi purpose scissors Cuts+More – a really useful item to have around the garden and indoors – see list of features below.

IMG_0579We did consider a garden shed to hold the tools and found some quite suitable ones on the web.  In the end we decided another shed would be one too many and instead we utilised one end of the new woodstore. It gives easy access while protecting from the weather all our Fiskar tools. The pair of Fiskars scissors on the left hand side was bought about 1970 is still in use – simply love it!

I have to say I’m delighted with this tool storage, easy to access, shielded from the weather that cost virtually nothing. Now what more could be squeezed in! I’m thinking of a brand new hoe, maybe …

Val Reynolds, Editor

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 16.46.22The Cuts+More is designed to cope with

Trimming, pruning, opening packages

A power notch to cut light rope

A wire cutter for cutting light wire without damaging the blades

A twine cutter to cut twine cleanly and quickly

A pointed awl tip for piercing holes in cardboard, plastic, matting

Titanium-coated, take-apart knife for cutting sheets of polythene, cardboard and sheeting – this is particularly useful

The cover includes an integrated ceramic sharpener and tape cutter

And a bottle opener for a well-earned drink in the shed at the end of the day!

Photography by Pintail Photo © PintailPhoto


Home grown Potato using Planter Bags

We have just harvested our potatoes from the planter bags we started in April. We left harvesting for a month once they were ready and decided to move them out when there was a risk of frost.

We had a reasonable crop – we love to eat our own grown veg and Desiree potatoes are popular with the family.

We did nothing other than use fresh compost from B&Q and kept them from drying out, so regular checking and watering was a must.

Our bags were 14 litre and gave us a lot of potatoes but nothing like the T&M crop – 80 tubers in one 8 litre bag!

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 13.22.15

Details of how it was achieved 

The method, hit upon during technical trials at the Thompson & Morgan seed and plant specialist’s Ipswich HQ, opens up potato growing to everyone – even those without a garden. The small but durable bags will sit happily by the front door or on a deep window ledge.

More than 80 tubers were harvested from just one of these bags, nearly treble the number harvested from each tuber in the larger sacks. The results came from Thompson & Morgan’s new Potato Jazzy – an exclusive new generation first early bred for maximum yield and flavour, but the impressive results don’t stop there.

Amateur growers tested the method this summer, too, when T&M horticultural director, Paul Hansord, challenged his local gardening club to a grow-off: three tubers of Maris Peer and three 8 litre bags – biggest harvest wins. “As with our technical trials, the club results were hard to believe. If I hadn’t cut the top growth from the winning entry and emptied out the crop myself, I wouldn’t have believed it. It was like the tubers were trying to burst out of the bags.” said Paul.Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 13.22.50

Gwynneth Hogger took the winner’s cup for producing an astounding 17.5lb of quality potatoes – a trophy well deserved!

Getting the most from the 8 litre potato growing bags is easy:

• Mix Chempak® Potato fertiliser with your compost before planting

• Set one tuber per bag and do not compact the compost

• Fill the bag with compost in one go – no need to top up

• Water evenly and do not allow to dry out

• Try auto irrigation to prevent over or under watering

Beat your neighbours to the first potatoes of the season – Harvest 12wks after planting!

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 13.22.36Try the 8 litre potato growing bags, beat Gwynneth’s 17.5lb harvest across three bags, and win £100 of T&M vouchers. Send a photo of you and your 2015 harvest to: – winners will be notified in July next year. Good luck!

For the widest selection of tuber varieties and the 8 litre bags (20 for £9.99) visit or call 0844 573 1818 for your free copy of the 2015 Kitchen Gardener’s Catalogue.

You can imagine at In Balance we are planning on doing the same and have put in our order right away for bags and Jazzy the potato variety and of course make sure we get the bag of the Chempak® potato fertiliser!

Val Reynolds, Editor


A Peaceful Getaway

Bird watcher or cyclist? History buff or rambler? These are some of the reasons why we moved to an unspoilt part of Cumbria, a peaceful and relaxed spot where, from our garden, we can see Brough Castle on the site of the Roman fort, Verterae.

IMG_9166 - Version 2 copy

The Coach House Cottage

If you enjoy that kind of holiday, then please consider joining us at Coach House Cottage in Church Brough, Kirkby Stephen. This one up, one down old coach house has been updated and offers comfort and privacy, whilst we live in the adjoining converted stables.

IMG_9213 - Version 2

Newly installed kitchen

IMG_4692 copy

Sitting area

Facilities are all new. We created an open plan kitchen with a fridge/freezer, electric hob/stove, microwave, toaster, slow cooker, tv, Freeview and wi-fi. Cutlery, crockery, glass, linen, tableware and cookware is provided. There’s full double glazing throughout, internal insulation and central heating, plus a smoke alarm link to the centralised system.

Double bedroom with ensuite shower room

Double bedroom with ensuite shower room

Upstairs, reached by a staircase from the sitting area is the light, airy double bedroom with en suite shower room. Open beams above and a truly comfortable bed! Bed linen, bath towels, tea towels are provided. Throughout you’ll find comfortable furnishings and some period country items.

There is ample parking in the courtyard and you have private sitting space in the walled kitchen garden with views of the farmland and hills beyond.

The cottage entry door is opposite the door into our house, we share the main entry door. Your privacy is assured, however – both buildings have solid, thick stone walls!

Worried about the weather so far north? Last winter gave us very little snow, which melted within a few hours. Yes, it rains at times – this is Britain, after all! – but when the sun comes out the light is so beautiful it can have an emotional effect. In fact, we get enough sun every day to have made installing the solar panels worthwhile.

So with Coach House Cottage as your base, what can you do around here?

The lane that takes you to the village square

The lane that takes you to the village square

Same lane, just our local rush hour!

Same lane, just the country rush hour!

Church Brough village is a three minute walk away. Brough takes about 15 minutes.

The cottage is on the 100 mile Lady Anne pathway from Skipton to Penrith and close to both the Pennine Way and the Coast to Coast route. An extensive footpath and bridleway network right on the doorstep means you can explore little known unspoilt countryside seldom meeting other walkers, unlike the Lake District.

For cyclists, Cycle Route 71 is about two miles away and beautiful, unspoilt countryside all around makes it a pleasure to ride.

For golfers, there’s a choice of two local courses – the Appleby (Gary Wolstenholme’s favourite) and the Ravenstonedale course, close to The Black Swan which was voted the pub of the year 2013. A bit further afield, there are top quality courses at Penrith, Alston Moor, Barnard Castle and Hexham.

A local wildflower meadow

A local wildflower meadow

For gardeners, we encourage your input into our on-going development of our kitchen garden, the big lawned rear garden, a small patio and small walled area, as well as the courtyard. We love talking about gardening especially the demands of this northern location. Throughout the summer, there are many local garden open days, both in small villages and big country house gardens.

Coach House cottage and stables from the church steps

Coach House cottage and stables from the church steps

For bird watchers, there is a good range of birds in the immediate vicinity and, in our garden alone, we’ve spotted curlew, peregrine falcons, goldcrests, oystercatchers, great spotted woodpeckers, heron, house sparrows, long tailed tits, cole tits, buzzards and possibly a golden eagle! There is an RSPB golden eagle hide at Riggindale, Haweswater, just over 20 miles away.

An Eden meadow at the height of the buttercup season, South Stainmore

For nature lovers, a trip to the North Pennines, which an area of outstanding natural beauty just on our border, is a must. There is a field centre at Bowlees Visitor Centre and several nature reserves and wildflower meadows to visit in both the North Pennines and the Eden Valley. 

For explorers, there’s a wonderful mix of moors, dales, scenic villages and market towns nearby without ever going near a large town.

Champion and proud owner at Brough 2013 Agricultural Show

For country lovers, we have a string of local shows and events throughout the summer, all within 20 miles, such as the Brough Hound and Terrier show, the Alston Sheepdog Trials, agricultural shows at Skelton, Penrith, Brough, Appleby, Ravenstonedale, Wensleydale, Crosby Ravensworth, Dufton, Moorcock and Alston, plus Harness Racing in Appleby and Horse Trials at Hutton in the Forest.

For train enthusiasts, the Settle to Carlisle railway is close by as are other restored stretches of defunct, railway routes such as Warcop and Alston should be of interest, as would be Kirkby Stephen’s railway museum and enthusiasts’ centre.

For antique hunters, there are regular auctions at Hawes, Penrith and Barnard Castle.

Pendragon Castle in Mallerstang valley, just south of Kirkby Stephen

Pendragon Castle in Mallerstang valley, just south of Kirkby Stephen

Finally, a bit about the history. The cottage formed part of what was the Church Brough Rectory estate. The rectory, servants’ hall, stables, coach house, barn and glebe land were privately acquired and converted into four separate properties. The coach house and stables are linked by a glassed entry with separate internal access to the two dwellings.

Located on a bridleway, immediately behind the self contained cottage is a flight of stone steps to St Michael’s, a church with Norman origins. Turning left out of the cottage you pass a well on your right. Take a right turn onto the little used lane/Roman road (see photo 5) with its metamorphic sandstone sides leading to the village green and Brough Castle from which there are fantastic views of the surrounding area. The farm beside the castle has a well-known ice cream parlour and tea room.

Brough lies at the foot of the Stainmore Pass that crosses the Pennines. The Romans built a military road from York to Carlisle and a chain of forts one of which was Verterae. A 1,000 years later the Normans built a castle on the Verterae site. Over the years the castle was destroyed, rebuilt, burned down and in the 17th century it was rebuilt by Lady Anne Clifford. A 100 mile pathway that follows the route Lady Anne Clifford took to visit her many castles from Skipton, passes through Church Brough going on to Penrith. Market Brough, the northern part of the village, was an important centre of trade from 1330 when a charter for a weekly market was granted.  There are multiple sites of historical interest. Castles of note are at Carlisle, Brougham, Brough, Raby, Barnard Castle, Middleton, Shap Abbey and Pendragon Castle, plus Roman fort sites and, of course, Hadrian’s Wall.

A practical note: there are two hospitals within 35 miles away and major supermarkets within about 20 miles, although Sainsburys, Tesco and ASDA deliver on-line orders. Our local market town, Kirkby Stephen, is just three miles away and you’ll find it unspoilt and undeveloped.

Kirkby Stephen main street – free parking throughout the town year round!

Depending on time of year our rates are from £350 to £495 per week. Short breaks are available. To check availability you can either call Val Reynolds on 017683 42530  or email her at More images on

So sorry but we are unable to accept pets.

Val & John Reynolds

Here is some recent feedback from our guests this year:

We had a wonderful time at the cottage. First impression on walking in is that everything is clean, neat and looks new. I have not slept so well in years the bed is so incredibly comfortable and large. We found the whole place very welcoming and well appointed. We both like walking and it was so great to be able to leave the front door and walk in stunning scenery without having to use the car. The pubs we went to for lunch provided really good food, people were friendly and helpful. At the end of each meal we had out I never once thought “I could do better than that at home” as so often happens on our walks at home when we try a new place. On the days we did use the car it was so great to drive and find a parking place. I am so used to the overcrowded road conditions and parking wardens so keen to fill their quotas of greater London. So we had a great holiday. Dave, London, UK

 Very comfortable retreat in the North Pennines. All mod cons and very attractive, stylish decor. Ideal location for people who love peace and quiet, within easy reach of wonderful walking areas. J & K, London, UK

A quirky, comfortable holiday retreat for two. The Coach House Cottage is very well equipped and beautifully furnished. The peaceful location in a wonderful area for walking and exploring. J&A, Brittany, France

We had a fantastic time at the Coach House Cottage. The local area has plenty of things to do, walking being our favourite. We loved the fact that the cottage was so well equipped, everything we needed was provided. M&S, Doncaster, UK

%d bloggers like this: