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Friday, 17 May 2013

Strawberry trials

Last year, my attempts at strawberry growing were a washout. Lots of leaves, but no fruit. So, inspired by a visit to this productive kitchen garden at the National Trust’s Polesden Lacey, near Dorking in Surrey (left),  I’m now trying two different methods of growing strawberries.

One involves an old fashioned strawberry planter with a secret weapon – a plastic drink bottle, with the base sliced off and side holes cut into it, pushed upside down into the middle to facilitate watering. I’m hoping this will get round the problem of water washing out the compost through the planting openings – a major bugbear in the past.

The second is a home-made version of the Polesden Lacey method, using a garden centre growing bag resting on two planks, which in turn are supported by bricks. It fits just 10 plants but unlike the Trust's, isn’t connected to a watering system.

So far all the plants are flourishing. But which method will produce the most strawberries?

See the results at
More on the Polesden Lacey gardens at

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Tulip time at Chenies

The gardens of Chenies Manor House in Buckinghamshire are a riot of colour at the moment, with some 6000 tulips in full bloom.
The sunken garden is especially lovely, with clumps of pink and blue forget-me-nots, alchemilla mollis, pansies and primroses setting off the paintbox colours of the different tulip varieties (sadly, not named).

The mellow brick house with its 22 individually cut chimneys dates back to Tudor times.
There’s a physic garden, a medieval well, two mazes. and an ancient tree known as Queen Elizabeth 1’s oak (she’s said to have lost a piece of jewellery as she sat in its shade).
In the summer months, the five acres of gardens are filled with perennials, shrubs, roses and many annuals especially dahlias, cosmos and salvias. If you take a tour of the house, be sure to ask your guide about the ghost of Henry VIII, said to roam the building searching for his fifth wife, Kathryn Howard, whom he suspected of having an affair with a courtier.

Chenies Manor House is open every Wednesday and Thursday, 2 – 5pm, and on Bank Holiday Mondays till the end of October.


Thursday, 2 May 2013

Get ahead - Get a hat!

Just out::  an inspiring new craft book by milliner and journalist, Mary Jane Baxter.

“The Modern Girl’s Guide to Hatmaking” is exactly that. The first section outlines clearly with illustrations the basic techniques needed to create a fabulous hat or headband, while the second part contains detailed instructions for 25 projects, ranging from very simple to more advanced. At the back of the book are full-sized templates, including some for the lovely organdy flowers featured on several creations. There’s a wide range of styles, from a sparkly mini beret to a “Fabulous ‘50s Percher” (fashioned from an old straw boater), a "Fast Feather Fascinator" (see below) and even an ‘emergency’ hat, to be rustled up if you get an unexpected invitation which requires some elegant headgear.

Mary Jane (a judge in BBC 2's recent Handmade Revolution series) has been creating hats since she was a teenager. Her first collection was sold in Harvey Nichols, and she has since created bespoke hats for many well-known personalities.
The book is published by Kyle Books (£18.99), just in time for Ascot and all those summer weddings. Mary Jane even includes a useful section on how to find a hat style that suits you best.

There’s a review by Vicky Frost on the Guardian website: