The garden in summertime

Every now and again it’s nice to update you on how my garden grows. I don’t know if you’re interested but I have a surplus of photos I need to share so there we go.

Right now I’m growing lots of herbs and while the spinach and chives have grown well from when I planted them in April, others are slower to take and I’m still waiting for the rosemary to show its first sprouts.

The roses are nearly all in bloom so everything is quite colourful at the moment. The sweat peas have in the last few weeks started to flower.

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I’m really impressed with this year’s display from my hosta. It always performs well but normally by this time it has been destroyed by slugs. I haven’t managed to put anything down to protect it so I’m relieved it’s still ok but we’ll have to see how long it lasts.

My so-called “hardy” fuschias did not really survive the Beast from the East and while one has started to leaf again the other has not shown any signs of life, which is a bit of a shame. I should have brought them in – I should do a lot of things I can’t be bothered with.

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Sweet peas

I’m loving the pond at the moment. The nearby fern is providing lots of wonderful shade and the marsh marigold is growing again, although still no flowers from it this year. I’ve seen a few frogs, which is wonderful as it’s what it’s there for. The cat still likes to drink from it, of course – what’s wrong with the fresh tap water we put down for her every day I do not know.

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That’s it for now. In the autumn I’m going to re pot the geranium and the erysimum as they have got too big for their boots.

Catch up on my other garden updates here and here.

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Lush shampoo bars – first impressions

Like practically everyone, I’ve been trying to reduce my plastic usage. Although I’ve always recycled since I was responsible for my own waste disposal, there’s a lot of stuff I never considered, and whilst being so concerned with finding vegan, cruelty-free shampoo brands I completely disregarded the fact that they come in plastic packaging.

Shampoo bars seem like the perfect solution but I’ve been reluctant to invest because it seems messy and ineffective. But I’m giving it a go now! I’ve bought a shampoo and conditioning bar from Lush to try over the next few months to see how I get on. I also bought one of little silver tins to keep it in to manage that worrisome mess.

Godiva shampoo & conditioning bar

A visit to Lush is a very sensory experience – there are so many interesting smells and pretty sights. I always want to try everything or at least sniff it all. I went into the shop specifically for a shampoo bar so I tried not to tempt myself with anything else. There is an impressive selection of shampoo bars, which are all around £6-8; this does sound pricey but when you consider it’s going to last you months and months it’s a good investment.

I went for the Godiva because it’s smells great and conditions as well, which saves me buying an extra bar. Not only is everything in Lush cruelty free (and cute and amazing!), many of their products are vegan, and the Godiva bar is completely vegan. It has a jasmine scent and contains a variety of oils and butters to give a soft shine to the hair.

It lathers up really well and it’s actually really easy and convenient to use. It’s not messy like I expected and I was impressed with the amount of lather you get out of these shampoo bars, and how long they last – 80-100 washes, so I’m told. I’m not totally convinced it’s going to be provide sufficient conditioning to my hair though so I’ll probably use a leave-in conditioning spray or a bit of coconut oil as well (which I already do.)

This shampoo bar is going to be really handy for travelling and for taking to the swimming pool as it’s so small and fits snugly into its little tin.

I also bought a milk bottle shaped shower gel but more on that later!

New plants for the collection

So my cat sadly destroyed a little copper plant pot I had and also damaged the maidenhair fern it housed. My calathea has also been suffering – it’s lost all stability, so it needs some R & R time “off exhibition” for a little while.

The upshot of all this disruption is that I’ve talked myself into buying a few more house plants for my collection (not that I needed much persuasion).

Pilea Peperomioides

Pinterest lovers will recognise the Chinese money plant and I’m so pleased to find one the size I wanted. I do have a mini Pilea but that will take years to grow so it’s nice to have an established plant.

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I’ve matched this plant with this gorgeous vintage pot I got from a garden centre – this is the Monza planter in vintage blue. I can’t find this particular pot online but here is a similar one by the same brand.

They’re really low maintenance and very architectural – they do look quite odd with their long stems and large circular leaves.

Air Plants

Nature has cleverly found a great way to grow plants in the driest desert conditions and hence we have air plants, so called because they don’t need to root in soil but can attach themselves to rock faces and suck out what little moisture they find.

As a house plant, this means they can be left in some decorative fashion and just occasionally soaked in water.

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The last air plant I had I did manage to kill, which is quite impressive for a plant that requires the barest minimum attention from me. I made the mistake of watering it in tap water and I live in a hard water area, which is not good for air plants as it blocks the trichomes apparently. So I’ll be careful to use rainwater in future.

I’ve put both in little terrariums and I love how odd they look.

 

Read more about my houseplant obsession here and here

National Insect Week

It’s not the most glamorous of ‘national week of…’ events but it is globally important to the conservation of insect species, which are rapidly declining. The celebration was started to “encourage people of all ages to learn about insects”, which is a particularly prescient exercise given the recent evidence from France and Germany that shows a 75% decline in insect species across the countryside within the last 25 years.

The National Insect Week website lists all the different types of insects and has a wealth of learning resources. Insects include:

  • beetles
  • butterflies and moths
  • bees and wasps
  • ants
  • crickets and grasshoppers
  • dragonflies and damselflies
  • earwigs
  • lacewings
  • mayflies
  • stoneflies
  • silverfish and firebrats
  • true bugs
  • true flies

A casual flick through the website and I have learnt that while there are over 50 or 60 species of butterflies in the UK, there are a staggering 2000 species of moth! I have also discovered what a firebrat is.

You may not be especially interested in insects – you may even avoid them at all costs – but they are an essential component of any ecosystem because so many animals depend on them for a food source. They are also pollinators so they help plants and flowers to reproduce, which contributes to a healthy and diverse ecosystem. Some insects even break down decaying organisms, returning those nutrients to the environment.

The RSPB suggests excellent ways to encourage insect species in our gardens:

  • build a bug home
  • plant for butterflies
  • install a bee hotel
  • pile up dead wood
  • support campaigns by Buglife

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Glamping in Wales (Part 3): Do

My final post in my series on glamping in Wales will look at the activities we took part in. You can catch up on my previous posts here: Sleep and Eat.

Do

Day 1: Check In

After a 6 hour train ride that involved several changes and delays, I checked into Hidden Valley Yurts for a week of comfortable glamping and fun activities. The first evening was really about having a brief look around the immediate site, settling into the yurt, and getting to know some of my fellow happy glampers.

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Day 2: Wye Valley Walk

We drove to Tintern and met John Bosley of Forest of Dean and Wye Valley Tour Guides who took us on a guided walking tour of the Wye Valley. John was an excellent tour guide and provided plenty of facts about the local history of the area and also pointed out some of the local attractions, such as the Tintern cafe station and the Anchor Inn, in which we had later enjoyed tea and cake. The route we took meandered along the River Wye past Tintern, past the old Tintern train station (sadly defunct though once a hive of industry), through the notorious Brockweir, once famous for its debauchery, and up hill to take in views of Tintern Abbey, before winding up at the Abbey itself.

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The landscape was absolutely stunning and following the river via wildflower meadows, with dandelions out in full bloom, was a beautiful sight, even in the torrential rain. And it really did rain, though this didn’t put off John, who is a real trooper! The tiny village of Brockweir was really interesting as it used to be a centre of industrial activity when the river was the main channel of commerce in previous centuries. Brockweir had more than its share of criminality and immoral living, so much so that local Christians managed to persuade the Moravians to finance the building of a Church in the village to rescue these lost souls from depravity. The church was very simple and interestingly the gravestones were all flat and tiny as part of the Moravian tradition – we are all equal in death.

 

After Brockweir we walked uphill to look down at the valley and from here you can see the river Wye on your right and the river Severn on your left. You can also just make out through the trees the ruins of Tintern Abbey and it’s easy to imagine how Wordsworth was so inspired by this view that he chose it to explore themes of the sublime in ‘Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey’.

Day 3: Farm Walks & Gorge Walks

In the morning, Mike, the owner of Hidden Valley Yurts, took us on a guided tour around the farm, meadows and woodlands. He explained how a previous owner died in the stream when returning home drunk from the pub, and how the Roundheads hid a foundry in the hills and disguised the path to Trellech as an old waterway. It was never discovered and is thought to be the reason the area is called ‘Hidden Valley.’ It’s easy to see how you can stay hidden in an area as remote as this.

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As we walked, Mike pointed out the highland cattle that are used on the farm for conservation grazing. Magnificent creatures with longhorns and floppy fringes, they were a firm favourite amongst the photographers in our group, though unfortunately I didn’t get many good shots as I had to use my phone and not my camera at this point. We walked through some of the ancient woodland and took in the bluebells and wood anemone and tried to spot the fleeting woodland birds sheltering from the rain.

Further down we came across a rope swing attached to a tree and all spent some time on this. It was a lot of fun!


In the afternoon the rest of the group went with Inspire 2 Adventure on a gorge scrambling adventure. Unfortunately, with my heart condition this is not a suitable activity for me as it’s just too strenuous but it looks like a lot of fun. They climbed up waterfalls, scrambled through tunnels and generally got very, very wet! This looks like a fantastic activity for those up for a real challenge and you can find more information here.


Instead of the gorge walk, I had some time to myself and as the sun had finally decided to show its face I went for a long walk around the farm. I took my binoculars and hoped to do some birding but Tilly the dog had other plans – she decided she would take me for a walk instead. I think she may have frightened off the birds but I still had a fantastic time hanging out with the sweetest of spaniels and the cutest of companions. There’s nothing better than walking in woodlands, especially ancient, natural woodlands like the kind you find at Hidden Valley Yurts. A previous owner planted an arboretum in the 70’s to re-tree the area and the canopy is very impressive already after such a short time. It’s clearly very valuable ecologically as there’s evidence of badgers, birds, bugs and all sorts in the woods, as well as rare wildflowers.

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Day 4: Canoeing on the river Wye & storytelling in Trellech

On our final full day of activities we set off by minibus to Monmouth to catch a canoe ride down to Whitebrook. I’ve never been canoeing before but we were in safe hands with Graham from Monmouth Canoe and Activity Centre. This is a really popular activity in the are as travelling by river is a great opportunity to experience the landscape from a different angle.

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Sorry, I can’t pose!

I took up position in the front as paddler, though the river was quite fast and really there was very little need to paddle. Graham steered the boat around the known hazards you might find in rivers – difficult bridges, random rocks – so we were in very safe hands. We even picked up a bit of litter along the way to help keep the environment healthy. Graham had a lot of knowledge to share about the river and pointed out all the bridges and towns along the way. We had beautiful sunshine for most of the journey and it made canoeing very relaxing. There was, of course, a sudden shower that lasted about 10 minutes in which we just let the river drift us down stream rather than using our very cold hands to paddle onwards.

 

Along the way we spotted martins nesting in an old dilapidated bridge, buzzards circling the woods, mandarin ducks by the banks, and swans sitting on their nests. There’s plenty of wildlife along the river and kingfishers and otters are occasionally seen, though sadly not by us.

The Boat Inn is a really nice pub you can stop at along the way but we didn’t have time. You can do full days canoeing and go further up river and take in this pub or others along the route and I’d definitely love to come back and do a full days canoeing one day!

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On our final day we wound down with a bit of very pleasant storytelling with Jan from Strolls ‘n’ Stories. We met in Trellech and she led us to the old Norman castle that is now just a large mound with a very big tree on top. We climbed up and got good views of the surrounding countryside and I could see the first swallows of the year darting in and out of barns.

Jan is a fantastic storyteller and she told us about a character named ‘Old Nell’, a well-loved herbalist who met a sorry end when the plague struck Trellech and she suffered the anger of the mob who decided she was a witch. Jan made this sad tale really come to life and it’s a great way for children to learn about local history with a personal touch. Next we moved onto Harold’s stones, which are 3 stones stuck in the ground and no one is really sure why! Theories abound – are they druidical time-telling devices, ceremonial stones, the work of giants or a communication tool with aliens?!

 

Finally after another short stroll past the sun dial sculpture we went to the virtuous well, which was historically been used for its healing powers. Many people still place offerings here but it’s not advisable to drink the water any more. Here Jan told us the story of Lady Amberley, who is famous for being Bertrand Russell’s mother but should really be known for her suffragette activism and her own merits. This was a firm favourite amongst our group and we all loved listening to Jan tell this story about an inspiring woman lost to history.

 

Day 5: Lake House Tour & check out

Before our departure we took a tour of the new Lake House, which is soon to be open on site. The owners have been developing this new accommodation for some time – they’ve converted a previous owner’s summer party house into luxury accommodation. It’s a converted cricket pavillion and you can see all the stud marks on the floorboards from the cricketers’ spikes.

The Lake House is absolutely stunning and everyone wanted to move in straight away! It’s set by the lake, as the name suggests, so it’s a really tranquil location. It’s ideal for those who want to experience life in the Hidden Valley but want a little more luxury and privacy, as the Lake House will have its own driveway and is separate from the other yurts, though of course residents can still go to the main yurt area.

 

The accommodation is really beautiful and the location is so peaceful and perfect. There are two bedrooms, one with an immaculate en suite and beautiful tiles for the shower. The furniture is all boutique, unique specimens and it all fits beautifully together. The kitchen and living area is really spacious and the kitchen has everything you need – cooker, butler sink, Smeg fridge, and all the worktops and units are tastefully made. The sofa is very large and comfy and be converted into a bed if needed, meaning that the Lake House can sleep 4-6. There’s more in the way of technology here than at the yurts as there’s a TV and WiFi (though you don’t have to use it if you still want that digital detox experience!)

 

The outdoor area is really special as well. There’s a BBQ and seating, and a wicker fence surrounding it in front of the lake. You’re right in the woods as well, with the stream nearby as well as your own lake, which attracts ducks, otters, and toads in the breeding season.


After the tour of the Lake House (which I am totally booking one day!) we packed up our stuff, straightened out the yurts, said our goodbyes to Tilly the dog and gave our heartfelt thanks to Mike for accommodating us and Alex from ALS Marketing for organising and driving us all over. This has been an absolutely fantastic break in nature and a much needed digital detox. I’ve got to know some fantastic people and done some really amazing activities – I want to take up canoeing now! The woodlands I can wander in for days and never get bored, and the yurts could easily be my home for weeks without discomfort.

Glamping in Wales (Part 2): Eat

Welcome to my second post in my series of three Sleep-Eat-Do blogs on my recent trip glamping in Wales. You can catch part 1 Sleep here but today I’m talking about the food I ate and the places I dined.

Eat

One of the most convenient aspects of this trip was that many major supermarkets deliver to the site and my shopping was already unpacked when I arrived. So there was little else I needed in a fully stocked and fully equipped semi-outdoor kitchen. There’s a bit more detail on this in my previous Sleep post so here I’ll talk about eating out in Tintern and the home cooked vegan curry that was cooked for us on site by a talented chef.

The Anchor Inn at Tintern

After a long walk through the stunning Wye Valley on our first full day in Wales we stopped off at a cute pub called the Anchor Inn, right next to Tintern Abbey. When we arrived we were wet – and I mean wet – so the staff let us leave our sodden coats at a different table while we ate. We took the large table in the centre by the fire that was placed over these really cute tiles that I fell in love with.

Tea and cake was served: red velvet cake, victoria sponge… And for us vegans we got some tasty vegan bites and a really delicious poached pear with sorbet. I rarely go for fruit as desert but this was so perfectly sweet and beautiful cooked and flavoursome that I would definitely choose this again – even over cake, and that’s saying something from me. I also got a really good decaff soya cappuccino to warm me up after the long walk and the Anchor was a lovely environment to relax and recuperate in.

We briefly explored the outdoor area, which has a lovely garden terrace with views of the abbey, so it would be a great place to sit with a pint in the summer. The pub itself dates back to the 12th century so it’s steeped in history – it was even the cider mill and grain store for the abbey.

Home cooked food by Infamous Catering

On Wednesday evening we were treated to an absolutely stunning vegan curry cooked for us on the yurt site by Ian from Infamous Catering. This is a really unique feature of Hidden Valley Yurts – that you can get a chef to come visit and cook you dinner without you needing to travel to a restaurant. I don’t know of anywhere else that can arrange this!

Ian cooked us a fresh vegan curry using the kitchen facilities on site. When we arrived nibbles were already being served and Ian turned out to be a friendly guy and passionate chef.

Nibbles

Ian provided several dips, most of which I have now forgotten the names of but I can assure you they were all delicious. The stand out was really the wild garlic crostinis, which we completely devoured. Ian foraged the wild garlic himself and makes a specialty of using foraged, local seasonal ingredients.

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Vegan curry

Normally vegans are an afterthought to chefs cooking for a group of omnis, so I was so pleased and impressed that Ian decided to take on the challenge of cooking a delicious vegan curry for everyone. This makes a lot of sense for a chef as they only have to cook one meal that everyone can eat, and Ian said he enjoys cooking vegan food as it’s a new challenge and he always finds people are impressed that vegan food doesn’t have to be bland.

Raw chocolate torte

Kudos to the brave chef who attempts a vegan desert. I won’t pretend it’s easy if you don’t know what you’re doing but we were in safe hands. We enjoyed an absolutely delicious raw chocolate torte that, despite being quite rich, we easily devoured it.

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Ian ‘Barney’ Barnes from Infamous Catering is all about seasonal, foraged, local ingredients, and this really came across is the freshness and flavour of the food he cooked for us. What’s more, Ian is brilliant company and we all learned a lot about local ingredients and how to experiment with cooking. It’s quite an unusual concept – Infamous Catering doesn’t have its own restaurant but does workshops, events and private dining experiences, so Ian is really versatile.

The 5 star Tripadvisor reviews say it all!

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