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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


Moving to the Country

However much you think you’re ready for it, the prospect of retirement and a gradual slowing down of activity hits you hard. I’ve always been an active, busy person and I knew dozing in an armchair was not how I wanted to spend my last couple of decades.

Instead, I wanted a life full of possibilities, full of new challenges and experiences.

And, sadly, I didn’t think that was going to happen in Welwyn Garden City, much as my husband John and I had loved our time in the centre of town, with our beloved garden.

Finding our ideal spot took some time – about a year, in fact – but the search was great fun as we explored the UK from Somerset to Dumfries looking for the property that excited us and offered a new life to us both. Eventually we found it, surrounded by beautiful views and without a neighbouring house in sight. After urban living, that was perhaps the biggest change for us!

The view that bowled us over

The view that bowled us over

So that’s why we now live in The Coach House in Cumbria and we couldn’t be happier! Why Cumbria? Why Cumbria – John spent many holidays walking in the north in Cumbria, the Yorkshire Moors and the Lake District. We both love the countryside and, with open land all around us, it’s like living in a park with surrounding meadows and, in the distance through very old and large oak, ash and sycamore trees we can see How Gill and other distant hills. With the wonderful light the view changes, sometimes dramatically quite suddenly. We’re by sheep, cattle and horses in the various meadows and, delightfully, our position on a bridleway means there is no disruption from traffic. A Roman road passes the property, only used by local farmers.

Cumbria is one of the most sparsely populated counties in the UK, with less than 75 people per square kilometer. The air is filled with the sounds of nature and we look back and wonder how we coped with the noise of Welwyn’s town centre for so many years. We both love it here and settled in very quickly, making friends with both locals and so-called outcomers – like us! Everyone we’ve met has been friendly and helpful, plus my work as a volunteer in the Visitor Centre in Kirkby Stephen brings me in touch with lots of people and helps me learn more about our new home.

The link between the two buildings

The link between the two buildings

_MG_4647 - Version 2

Coach house from the church steps

So shall I tell you about The Coach House? It is, in fact, two buildings, linked by a glazed area similar to a conservatory where I keep precious indoor plants. John and I live in the old stables and the coach house is a one up, one down building that was used by the rector’s coachman and his family, coaches were stored below. The early Norman church is just behind us.

The coach house is singularly individual – stone built with a curved wall on two sides. Initially, we thought we’d use it for friends and family, then it became clear it lent itself to becoming self contained holiday accommodation. On the ground floor there was enough room for a fitted kitchen with dining and sitting space, on the first floor a double bedroom with an en suite shower room.

So we embarked on a journey of property improvement and discovery in the land of letting! If you’d like to join us for a holiday stay, we’d love to share our new home and its peaceful surroundings with you. Want to know more? It’s all here.

Val Reynolds


Help with Hanging Baskets – video

We came across a most useful video on YouTube entitled How to Create Perfect Hanging Baskets throughout the seasons. Having put some hanging baskets together we came to realise there is more to success than meets the eye, this video has given us insights to hang on to.

Most gardens require some level of year-round maintenance, and whilst these fundamentals are key to keeping a garden looking neat and tidy, it’s the finishing touches that can make your garden a truly beautiful haven to enjoy every time you step in to it. Whatever season or sized garden you’re planting for, hanging baskets and planters offer you a really simple way to dress your garden with bursts of colour and fragrance the whole year through.

Whether you’re looking to dress-up a country estate, town garden, urban balcony or roof terrace, the Blacksmith range of wrought iron hanging baskets, wall mangers, troughs and planters come in a wide choice in sizes and styles, that once planted, will add whole new floral dimension to your outdoor space throughout the seasons.

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 17.46.31




In this short film  wellknown gardener and horticulturist Martin Fish shows you how to achieve seasonally beautiful hanging baskets.

Tips To Remember:

  1. Use a multi-purpose compost; this has a light texture and will encourage growth for a broad range of plants
  2. Use a slow release fertilizer to provide feed for the plants for several months
  3. To the compost add some water retaining gel to help keep the compost moist and plants watered
  4. Keep the soil about an inch below the rim of the basket to enable to you to water your basket well and to prevent compost spilling
  5. You must remember to keep your plants well fed so, feed monthly with a liquid feed to help promote a full and showy bloom throughout the season.

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 17.49.47Summer Basket Plants

  • Trailing Lobelia – Masses of frothy flowers that will go through the summer
  • Geranium – Gives the basket its height, with pink flowers
  • Helichrysum – Delicate silver/grey foliage plant
  • Scaevola – Delicate unusual flat shape flower foliage plant
  • Trailing Petunia – Bright pink flowers
  • Begonia – Pink flower, glossy foliage plant used for bedding to fill the spaces within the compost and give that fuller effect

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 17.50.29All Seasons Basket Plants

  • Selection of Evergreens – Coneflowers, Variegated, Grasses, Sages, Heathers
  • Trailing Plants – They will grow over the edge with their graceful habit
  • Ajuga – Grow blue flowers in the spring, these remain looking good 12 months of the year
  • Crocus and Daffodils – Bulb plants that will push up through spring
  • Edible Crop Baskets Herbs Basket – Marjoram, Thyme, Parsley, Chamomile
  • Fruit and Vegetable Baskets – You can grow lettuce, tomato or strawberries

Happy Gardening!


Fourteen Thoughtful gifts for Father’s day June 15th 2014

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 16.37.32We asked busy garden writer Amily Grossman, to give us some of her ideas for gifts for Fathers’ Day. With a little help from friends and relatives, here is her list.

Dads can sometimes feel a little left out in the early days with mum and baby sharing so much one on one time together. Water Babies, is a leading baby swimming school with classes all over the country. Water Babies lessons are a great way to get Dad involved as little ones are able to take lessons from birth, giving Dad and baby a fantastic opportunity to bond. Our favourite Father’s Day gift!

The weight of garden tools can become an issue if you frequently dig, hoe and rake. So your dad might welcome on of the new Light Gardening Tools from Fiskars. Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 16.53.27The lawn rake looks especially useful, it efficiently clears grass with much less effort than usual. The patio knife on a long handle would save a lot of back ache. Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 16.57.57Having just broken a wooden handled spade we’re now seriously considering the Light spade for our own gardening activities.

My dad really likes doorstep size slices of bread, toasted muffins, toasted crumpets and fast toast. The Magimix Vision Toaster comes top in all these requirements – the chance to watch the toast cooking a plus feature.

This toaster is great for the man who is of the opinion there is no point in heating up the grill in the cooker for a couple of slices of toast – a total waste of electricity. The side by side design means it fits on the work surface neatly, although we would have it on the table for easy access. Just so you know, this toaster is a Which Best Buy and although pricey at £145 it has good user reviews.Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 17.00.31

OK, so a toaster is not appropriate for your dad. What about a book?

How about the Penguin series devoted to Simenon’s books – he may well enjoy the first Inspector Maigret novel Pietr the Latvian, if only for nostalgic reasons! Penguin are publishing the entire series of the Maigret novels, so this could cover your gifts for several years!

Confessions of The World’s Best Father – a tongue in cheek series of web entries that started an internet phenomenon. His bewilderment as to how to best raise a child makes Dave Engledow’s book an amusing read. The photographs are pretty good too!

If you’d prefer to give a more sober present, you could go for The Death of Money. James Rickards shows how we could avoid financial collapse.

James Lovelock’s A Rough Ride to the Future confirms his belief that the survival of the human race is one of the most important steps in the evolution of our planet. 

With Flowers Shows happening all over the country why not get tickets?

  1. For instance the Blenheim flower show 20-22 June.
  2. Hampton Court Flower Show is on from 8 to 13 July. Yes, it’s pricey but it’s big, a great time to talk to like minded gardeners, many exhibitors are readily accessible and it’s generally good weather! Link
  3. Harrogate Flower Show is 12-14 September.

If your dad is a keen veggie grower he might just like a copy of the Suttons Vegetable Garden Planner <> An absolutely winner for us – it  takes out all the guesswork and is an easy to refer to record throughout the year.

Backdoor shoes – if your dad is constantly in and out of the garden, he might well like a pair of lightweight Backdoor Shoes to slip on and off. Might keep mum happy too with less mud to clear up. We love ‘em, ours has taken 4 years of hard wear and need replacing now. Which design to choose will be a challenge!

11182_1Does this portable USB iShaver razor appeal? Designed to easily slip in a pocket or washbag significant features include:

  • Recharge via USBi shave
  • Stylishly sleek compact design
  • Ultra-thin net foil with floating blades
  • Cleaning brush included
  • Easy on/off switch
  • Comes in a high gloss case and ultra-thin net foil with floating blades for a close, comfortable shave

Finally, some alcohol? Yes, it is a bit of a get out clause, here are some suggestions 

You could sign him up for Naked Wines. The company was started up by two former employees of Virgin Wines, with the added ethos of supporting the wine producers, all small scale but dedicated growers. You might like to make your dad a wine angel! Sounds fun? Here’s a link.

Taylor’s 10 year old Tawny Port is rather tasty, we keep some for special occasions and in the winter when we feel the need for something to keep us warm.

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 17.07.34Lastly, for the dad with a dog. The Forestry Commission England has created a one-stop-shop for owners and their dogs looking to take a break in and around forests and woodlands. The Ruff Guide to the Forest showcases 34 Forestry Commission locations across England, highlighting each site’s trails and facilities suitable for dogs, along with dog-friendly places to stay nearby.

Phew, will have to take a break now and go for a spot of weeding! The sun’s out and I’ll don my Backdoor Shoes, pick up the handy trowel with its graduated scale for planting seedlings, put on my Ethel gloves and make sure the waterproof jacket is by the backdoor in case of an unexpected show.

Good luck!

Amily Grossman, gardening expert and occasional contributor to In Balance Magazine


The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs

9780141194622When I recently joined an informal singing group I had no experience nor training in singing, except in the bath of course! Over the first few months we sang several folk songs and when I came across the recently produced The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs I was delighted.

I so love this book! After reading the introduction, I was more than ready to dip in to the contents. The songs are divided into sections:

  • Soldiers and sailors
  • Happy relationships
  • Unhappy love
  • Lovers’ tricks, disguises and obstacles overcome
  • Lust, infidelity and bad living
  • Rural life and occupations
  • Animals and nonsense
  • Songs of death and destruction
  • Poachers, highwaymen and other criminals
  • Traditional religious songs

My favourite is Rural Life and Occupations. Many songs give insights into country life and when I have shown some of the songs to local people where we live in Cumbria it has given our conversation a lively and fascinating element that  further stimulates insights and background.

Although I can’t simultaneously read music and hear the tune in my head, each song includes the musical notation and verse so I can play the music on a keyboard giving me the opportunity to practice the songs we eventually sing in the group.

Whatever attracts one to this book it provides a fascinating collection of songs to dip into for historical and social information – 130+ pages – plus musical notation and verse.

The book cover uses a section of a beautiful Tunnicliffe engraving of a stallion and its groom which underlies the folk theme of the songs. Did you know there is a Charles Tunnicliffe Society? If you like his work here is a link to the official website with its fascinating website index that includes masses of illustrations of his work.

A great gift for anyone interested in folk music history that we can’t praise more highly, The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs is published by Penguin at £9.99 for the paperback.  A truly classic book – it’s a permanent item on my bedside table and constantly referred to.

Val Reynolds, Editor


Twelve Thoughtful Gifts for Christmas

These gifts are good to give any time – they are our absolute favourites – they might just appeal. We make no apology for the gardening flavour … we dedicated gardeners just have to pass on details of products that work for us.

Plant theatre

Plant theatre

Plant Theatre  The Dobies catalogue is full of goodies for the gardener, and we really like the Plant Theatre they sell. We have put our new collection of streptocarpus cuttings in our Plant Theatre, although  traditionally used to show off auriculas.

Our plant theatre is on the floor of the conservatory at the moment but  will be erected on the wall as soon as possible to keep the plants away from draughts. Essentially woodland plants streptocarpus don’t like a lot of direct sunlight preferring to be kept lightly moist, bordering on dry. If you are interested have a look on the internet, there is a vast choice. You can buy cuttings on eBay as well. Some are absolutely beautiful and unusual.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 16.51.53Hi Lo 

If you know someone with hanging baskets who gets weary with lifting heavy watering cans, getting water up their arms,  puddles of water on the ground, our feeling is they would welcome a HiLo device. It allows you to lower the basket to a workable level for pruning, deadheading and watering. Then pulled up – carefully – to the height you want it. An essential item for any dedicated hanging basket fan. At the moment Dobies have a 3 for the price of 2 offer you might like to take up.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 18.18.17Know someone who is a keen ‘Grow your Own’ gardener? The Allotment Almanac provides a month by month entry to remind you, and look forward to, what could be done in your vegetable plot, big or small. A fascinating and infomative read written by Terry Walton,  gardening guru of BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show. A pleasant read and good guide for both experienced and novice gardeners alike.

G&P 2014 coverKnow someone who is intrigued by the effect of the moon on plants and their development? Gardening and Planting by the Moon 2014: Higher Yields in Vegetables and Flowers is out now and a fascinating read written by Nick Kollerstrom. Here we learn  the rhythms of the moon affect both crops and livestock. The gardeners at RHS Wisley have proved the benefits of the lunar effect under controlled research conditions. Increased yields of 20% – 30% are routinely touted. You won’t have to get up in the middle of the night to sow your carrots! Country folk know that planning their work in harmony with the rhythms of the moon produces better crops. It’s that easy. They get higher yields and better flavour in vegetables. Flowers produce stronger displays and heightened colour. This guide computes everything you need to know about the daily influence of the moon and the planets in the garden. With its full 15-month daily calendar, it creates an essential timetable for the year ahMead and a fine means of self-discipline for keen gardeners. More information on

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 15.22.53We absolutely love the aromas from AromaWorks. Can’t say enough good things about them, from the candles to  reed diffusers,  body oil to bath oil,  room mists and essential oils.

We find it difficult to say which is our favourite but must note the mix of May Change and Sandalwood of the Nurture Room Mist is fabulous, and the aroma mix of Serenity is out of this world. The scent lasts for ages, it is highly concentrated, 100% pure but not overpowering. Even when we put have them away for a week or so we can still detect a feint scent for days.

These scents are well worth the money and the only room scent products we give as gifts, they are that good. See more details on AromaWorks.

Know a fan of Tolkein books? Then a series of epic stories that inspired Tolkein to write the Lord of the Rings has been published by Penguin.

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 12.03.53

The five titles of the Legends from The Ancient North are:

  • Beowulf
  • The Elder Eddo
  • The Saga of the Volsungs
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • The Wanderer: Elegies, Epics, Riddles

Each title is priced at £6.99. eBooks are £4.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 16.46.22A pair of secateurs is very useful when pottering around the garden . However  we have found a very useful pair of multi purpose scissors designed by Fiskars with so many features that makes it an essential item to carry around as well with you as well,  indoors and out. They are brightly coloured so less chance of losing them. I always tie a long red ribbon on secateurs which works for me.

Here’s a list of what the Cuts+More it is designed to cope with:

  • High-quality blades for trimming, pruning, opening packages
  • Power notch to cut light rope
  • Wire cutter for cutting light wire without damaging the blades
  • Twine cutter to cut twine cleanly and quickly
  • Pointed awl tip for piercing small holes in cardboard, plastic, matting
  • Titanium-coated, take-apart knife for cutting sheets of polythene, cardboard and sheeting
  • Cover includes an integrated ceramic sharpener and tape cutter
  • Bottle opener for a well-earned drink in the shed at the end of the day!

We love ours! Why not treat yourself and/or give a pair to a dedicated garden potterer?  Available from B&Q and independent home and garden stores.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 18.27.23Apple peeler/corer/slicer – its appearance does give the impression it is an instrument of torture! In fact it makes a job that can turn into torture into a breeze. And the results are so worthwhile and easy to produce I’m surprised it has taken us so long to find it!

When I lived in France Apple Flan was a regular and delicious treat. However that was in the days when we all had time to sit round a table to peel, core and slice apple ready for the tart to go in the oven and didn’t mind having brown stained fingers.

With this apple peeler everything is done in a trice.

Here are my Eleven Easy steps:

  • Wash cooking apples – it’s amazing how much dirt is removed in this one step.
  • Wipe dry, roughly.
  • Push onto the prongs
  • Turn handle
  • Watch the peel just fall down – straight into the compost bin!
  • Remove the peeled and cored apple
  • Cut in half
  • Lay straight onto pre-cooked pastry in the flan dish (some people put in a non stick cake tin liner to make sure the baking beans are all removed.
  • At this point some people put a layer of apple puree before adding the apple slices – this makes it all rather gorgeous!
  • Brush the apple slices with lemon juice – you could put them under the gril to brown them a little before brushing on a thin apricot jam syrup
  • Serve with beaten Light Philadelphia, or 0% fat greek yogurt. Yum!

Phew! That’s so easy! And quick! And looks so impressive!

Widely available on the web, where we bought ours.

We found several recipes on one website that you could adapt to suit.

One aspect of a kitchen sink is the space the draining board takes up, permanently, and the fact is we find it is not an easy space to use for anything else.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 18.08.21When we had a kitchen installed recently we asked for just a sink bowl and bought a Joseph Joseph flip side draining board – available in grey or white. This can be put away once finished with, leaving a clean, flat surface to use for other work which looks so much nicer. Ideal for two, but not very practical for a family.

Know someone who is worried about draughts and high energy costs? This is just one item we have found that really made a difference to the temperature in our hallway. It’s the EcoFlap. Fitted on the inside of the letter box it stops the draughts getting to your radiator thermostat.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 18.45.26We’ve just moved house and our new letterbox did leak air, seeped rain, rattled, snapped, and crumpled our mail! We quickly installed another Ecoflap – inexpensive, easy to install and effective. Can’t praise this enough!

Know someone who always has cold feet? We have tried three different products. The Carnation Silversocks made with pure silver fibre are said to relieve the pain of diabetes, chilblains, epidermolysis bullosa and circulation disorders, we like the idea of the anti bacteria element. They were rather too tight round the ankles for us, however would be fine for those with thinner legs.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 18.56.47Workforce socks fit the bill for when we are in and out of the cold, it doesn’t matter whether we are using boots or shoes in cold weather, they are comfortable and warm with a really comfy sole – a hit with husband!

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 16.52.32Then we came across goats’ woollen socks – they are wonderful! By far the most popular in our house. The socks come in long, medium and short. Plus topless, ideal for anyone who doesn’t like a mark on their leg or who might have circulation problems. Available from Wiggly Wigglers whose reviews are excellent, so it’s not just us who love ’em! Here is one: “These socks are quite simply the warmest socks that I have ever worn. They wash and dry well, and do not shrink. They also make great bedsocks!!! The weather outside is doing its worst (this is eastern Scotland after all!)  but my feet are warm and toasty!” Grown by Goats … for Toasty Toes … See more reviews and full details here.

5091David Austin roses  Whoever you give a rose to will be reminded of you for years to come. We love David Austin roses and have given so many as gifts over the years and never fail to find an excuse to give another! Our favourites are the ramblers and this year we have planted Creme de la Creme, a beautifully scented climber on the pergola. We have planted a white wisteria to complement it and between these two plants we are anticipating pleasant rests in the sun.

Compiled by Val Reynolds, Christopher Johns, Liz Lovell, Rose Monro

We’ll write something about the most successful presents we have given and received this Christmas. You might like to contribute!

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