Saturday, 10 June 2017

Getting my garden ready for summer with Love your Garden expert Katie Rushworth and Tesco

Katie Rushworth

Last week I was lucky enough to get some gardening advice from Katie Rushworth from ITV's Love your Garden who gave me some top tips on getting the garden ready for summer.  It's not very often you get the opportunity for a professional gardener cast an eye over your garden, so I was very excited to see what she might say about mine.  

We were meant to talk on the phone, but due to our work commitments we decided that email was the way to go! I was asked to send some photos of the garden and three questions for Katie to answer, which sounds great, but when you're selecting photos for a professional gardener to case their eye over you suddenly get a bit nervous.  I'm very much a beginner, and so although there are parts of the garden I'm quite pleased with there are other areas that are either in need of work or just look a bit of a mess.  

I chose the following photos because they illustrated the problems I'm currently having, but please bear in mind that these are aspects of the garden that are usually carefully edited out!

You can read Katie's answers below, and I've also selected a few items based on her answers that are available from the impressive gardening range at Tesco. 

The choisya is the white flowering shrub in the centre of the photo
Question: The Choisya is beautiful but is getting too big and overcrowding the border. I'm nervous about pruning it because when I pruned a previous one I noticed it began to turn brown and a few weeks later it was dead (not sure what I did wrong). When is the best time to prune, and can you give me some tips on how to prevent damaging it.

Katie: You need to prune it immediately after it has flowered. Always cut back to an outward facing new shoot and make your cut diagonally. Try not to remove more than 50% of the plant, that way it won’t be too shocked. Then mulch around the base of the plant with either well-rotted manure, homemade compost or a general fertilizer. Last but not least, give it a nice big drink of water. 

Flower girl secateur pruning set
Heritage cream metal watering can

Question: I had a huge cherry tree pruned earlier this year to let more light into the garden, as a large proporion of the garden including the the lawn was very shady.  Do you think that was that a factor in the lawn being so patchy? What your advice for making it look green again? 

      Katie: Yes, it is very likely that the tree was an issue. You can patch it up in the same way as you would any lawn however I would suggest you buy grass seed specifically for a shady area (it usually states very clearly on the box that is a suitable for shade)

Make sure you remove any bare patches by getting rid of any dead grass and moss from the area. Then sprinkle some topsoil, followed by some lawn seed. A final fine dressing of topsoil will keep any wildlife from eating the seed as well as ensure that the seed comes into contact with the soil. Lightly water to prevent any of the seed from being disturbed.

Hand push cylinder lawn mower, perfect for a small lawn like mine

Complete 4-in-1 lawn food

Question: Over the last year or so, the decking and pergola area has been badly damaged in storms. I want to replace it but I'm on a tight budget, what would you suggest?

      Katie: Given that you want to keep costs down I would first clear out everything that is broken and overgrown. I’d also re-paint the brick wall and re-stain the decking along with some old pallets. Stack the newly stained pallets on top of one another (usually only two high) to create a corner seating area, dress with big cushions and make a canopy from some strung up some festival lights. 

Mason Jar Solar Lights

Water resistant pallet seat cushion

UV resistant sail canopy

And just because I love it, and we have a resident hedgehog, how about this gorgeous little hedgehog house:

I've already taken on board some of the advice, and I've pruned the choisya and reseeded part of the lawn.  I'm also planning to start work on clearing the decking area and making a seating area with lighting.  I'll be updating with photo evidence soon, and hope that I haven't done more damage than good.

Do you have any gardening tips?  What would you do with that messy decking and pergola area?  

This post is in collaboration with Tesco. Words, photos and selection of items are my own.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Choosing clothes after losing weight

Last year I lost 3 stone in weight (42lbs).  It took me the whole year to lose it by following a simple 'easy less and move more' approach and I plan to lose another 3 stone, which would make a whopping 84lb loss altogether.

One of the unexpected pleasures from losing weight has been shopping for clothes.

When I was at my biggest I was a size 22, pushing a 24 if I'm honest, and having to choose clothes was excruciating.  I hated trying things on, they usually didn't fit or didn't suit me, but if I could get into them I'd buy them purely because it was a relief to find something, anything, that fitted me.

At size 18 there are a lot more options, but it's also more fun to try things on.  I don't need to shop at specialist shops anymore, and the pleasure in finding clothes in a regular shop still hasn't lost it's appeal.

I spend most of my time in jeans and trousers, but if we get a summer this year I want to stay cool without getting my legs out (not my best asset) so the answer has to be the summer maxi dress.
I love this Joe Brown's slightly retro style dress. It's cotton so would be lovely and cool to wear, and what a great colour. Would be perfect for a summer BBQ, weather permitting of course. 

Wrap front jersey maxi dress

I love a monochrome dress, and this one has my name all over it.  I like this wrap over bodice and the stretch jersey fabric would pack easily into a suitcase.  What's not to love?
Pink floral maxi dress
I love a hot pink, don't you? I never used to wear it but now I have several pink items in my wardrobe.  This floral layer dress has the most flattering bodice and would be very easy to wear - I think it'll be coming with me on holiday this year, and it won't break the bank (I had to look twice at the price).

Ironically, all of these maxi-dresses are available up to a size 32 which would have made clothes shopping a whole lot easier if I'd known!

How do you keep cool in summer?  What are your essential summer items?

This is a collaboration post with JD Williams, words and opinions are my own. 

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Making slow progress in the garden

The curved border

Canes for the sweet peas

Sweet peas


Alice watching me in the garden

Making progress in the garden

Well, since my last post about the garden I've kept to my word and done 20-30 minutes gardening a day.  It's about the right amount of time to fit in with everything else, but still have an impact on the garden.

I've tided the curved border, and cleared out quite a few of the hellebores - they had taken over the whole border!  I've planted three lupins, plus some irises and a couple of other plants (the names of them escape me at the moment) but it's looking much better.  I also made a space to plant out the sweet peas and put some supporting canes in place.  I'm hoping we'll have a really good show of sweet peas this summer.

It's at times like this I miss my dad, who was a very good gardener.  He would have had a look around the garden and tell me what I should be doing,and give me some handy tips.  So I'm very excited that later this week I'm going to be talking to Katie Rushworth* who is one of the gardening experts on Love Your Garden (along with Alan Titchmarsh) and she's going to be giving me some much needed advice about my garden.  I can't wait!

What's the best gardening advice you've ever had?

Jean x 

*In collaboration with Tesco

Forgive the quality of the photos but they're from my phone, I still haven't bought a decent camera.  I have the money saved but can't bear to part with it!

Thursday, 11 May 2017

5 ways to keep depression at bay using natural methods

5 ways to keep depression at bay using natural methods

For #mentalhealthawareness week I thought I'd share some thoughts on how I have dealt with my own experience of depression, which I've written about before.  I took anti-depressants for several years without a break, but taking them over a long period of time isn't ideal for most people, and I wanted to see what else I could do to improve my mental health.

Before making any changes to prescribed medication I recommend speaking to your GP first.   I spoke to my GP who suggested weaning myself off them slowly, and introducing the new natural methods at the same time. I did a lot of reading on the subject before taking the plunge and when I was ready I tried out different methods for preventing depressive episodes.

Listed below are some of the things that have worked for me, they're all easily achievable and can be incorporated into a busy lifestyle without too much effort.

I've been doing them for so long now that they've become habits that I don't have to think about, they're just part of my regular daily routines and I'm pretty sure it's what's prevented me having any major depressive episodes for the past 3 years.   I'm not saying they will work for everyone but I hope you find something useful here.

1.  Try herbal supplements

After being prescribed anti-depressants for years and wanting to try something else I did some research into herbal supplements, and found that St John's Wort is regularly prescribed by German GPs to patients with low levels of depression, and so I decided to give it a go.  I started off by taking one a day, and would occasionally increase the dose to two on days when I felt my mood dip or felt a bit low.  I took St. John's Wort for a couple of years without any side-effects, and they worked well for me.  

I took them for two and a half years without having any dark episodes of depression, although I didn't just take the medication - I also used some of the other natural methods listed below.   That's not to say I don't feel down occasionally, I do, but having fluctuations in mood is normal (something that's easy to overlook when you've had depression) and although I no longer feel the need to take a daily dose I keep them in the medicine cabinet for times when I'm feeling a bit down to give me little boost.

You can find more information about using St John's Wort here. They're easy to get hold of too - you can buy them in health foods shops, pharmacies and supermarkets.

2. Get out in the fresh air
This seems pretty obvious, but getting out in the fresh air is one of the best types of medicine for good mental health. Even a 15 minute walk can be enough to clear the mind and there's nothing like getting outside for a brisk walk to blow off the cobwebs.

Not only that but daylight is the best source of vitamin D which is essential for healthy bones, teeth and muscles. Our bodies create vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin when we're outdoors.

As a dog lover you know I'm going to say that the ideal answer is to get a dog because they demand to be taken out at least twice a day, in all weathers.  I do my best thinking when I'm out walking my dog Alice: it's a great time to mull things over and make decisions without the background noise that we become so accustomed to in our daily lives.

You don't even need to have a dog you can borrow one, or just get outside and walk, cycle,  go for a run, do some gardening, watch the seasons change, do anything but get out in the fresh air and get that vital boost to the emotional immune system.

Getting outside for a dog walk

3. Do something for someone else

It's always good to do something for someone else, and the reward is that warm and fuzzy feeling when we've done it.  I started volunteering for my local Royal Voluntary Service befriending service last year, and I get just as much out of it as the lovely lady I visit every week.

There are always loads of volunteering opportunities (contact your local CVS for volunteering ideas) or just do the occasional random act of kindness.

You'll reap the benefits, I promise.

4. Take a break from social media

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with social media. Most of the time I love it, and have been known to spend far too much time on Twitter, Facebook and (my favourite) Instagram.  The problem is that it's not real life, and we're only seeing a carefully edited version of people's. The continual flow of images of lives that always seem so perfect can make it a little hard to take sometimes. There's always someone who is richer, happier, thinner or better looking than us on social media, but it's not always as it seems.  Or usually isn't.

Take a break from social mediaI had a chat with a blogger friend recently whose life seems to be made up of exotic travel, glamorous parties and exciting events, but even she told me things weren't as they perfect as they appear to be, and that travelling brought its own set of problems with family logistics and strains on her relationship. It's so easy to believe everything we see, but it isn't real life and for most of us it's also unattainable.

 If it feels like it's getting too much take a short break, maybe a day or two. Or make a rule to turn all social media off by, say, 7pm every night for a week.  I stepped back from Facebook six months ago, and apart from an initial Fear Of Missing Out,  I really haven't missed it much.  And as friends and family know I'm no longer on there, they send their news by text or email or, and this is very old school, they tell me in person!  I might return to FB one day, but I'll limit the amount of time I spend on there.

5. Get enough sleep

Getting enough sleep is essential for keeping everything on an even keel, and I don't know about you but I don't manage well if I'm not getting a decent night's sleep on a regular basis.  Invest in a good mattress, adopt a sleep routine, turn off the telly and tablet, put your phone away and get an early night.  A bit of relaxing reading in bed is enough to make me nod off after a few minutes, but do whatever works for you.  You deserve an early night.

If you or someone you know is depressed please take the first step and speak to someone about it. Speak to a friend or family member or see your GP.  There is more information about Mental Health Awareness Week here.

What are your recommendations for keeping depression at bay?

Monday, 1 May 2017

Making plans for the garden, and a return to blogging

I've spent most of this bank holiday weekend trying to get the garden under control.  As you can see from the photos above, the garden has become a bit overgrown and neglected.  It has the bones of a good garden but for several reasons last year I hardly touched it, which has meant some borders are overrun with hellebores (and their giant leaves), nettles or weeds.  The lawn is very patchy, a vine has grown so wild it has strangled (and killed) a beautiful choisya in the main border, and a dogwood tree has grown so tall I don't even know what to do with it.  The paths and patio are covered in moss, the decking, fence and pergola were badly damaged in the recent Storm Doris and needs to be replaced, and the shed needs some repairs to the roof.  

The only thing I've done to improve the garden was to book a tree surgeon to prune the huge cherry tree in the garden.  It was much too big and meant that 75% of the garden was always in shade, making it difficult to grow some plants and causing the lawn to be patchy and full of moss.  The canopy of the tree is now much more in proportion and is letting the light back into the garden.

I'm kicking myself that I let the garden get into such a state, but last year my priorities were elsewhere and there was little time or inclination for anything else.

So, my plan is to do it in small bite size chunks.  

I'm going to try and tackle it for 30 minutes at a time.  Thirty minutes is short enough to fit into a busy weekday schedule, and long enough to tackle one job at a time.

I have a list of things that I need to do, some of them more pressing than others:
  • get the small curved shaped border thinned out, it has become overrun with hellbores;
  • plant out some favourite cottage garden flowers, such as lupins, delphiniums, foxgloves, sweet peas and dahlias;
  • clear the paths of moss and weeds
  • clean the patio
  • repair the shed roof 
  • tidy the border under the living room window, which gets full sun, and choose some suitable plants to go in
  • dig up the roots of the choisya, and replace with another shrub (possibly another choisya or perhaps a ceonothus, we had one in our last garden) 
  • plant up some tubs
  • renovate an old bench I bought, which has seen better days
  • paint the garden gate
  • replace the broken fence panel
    There are also some bigger jobs that need a bit of planning:
    • plan what to do with the damaged decking and pergola
    • get estimates for replacing it
    • repair the lawn
    • buy and install some garden lighting
    I'm already nervous about the amount of work ahead but hopefully doing it in smaller chunks will help make it more achievable.  Watch this space!

    I've enjoyed my prolonged break from blogging, but just recently I started to miss it again.  The blogging world has changed considerably since I first started 10 years ago, but even so it's still cheap therapy and an enjoyable hobby, and that's enough for me. 

    So although there won't be any international gallivanting (unfortunately!), fancy photo shoots, or award-winning blog posts, there will be the occasional ramble about parenting, gardening or life in general and the odd photo here and there. It'll be lovely to have your company again. 

    Sunday, 17 July 2016

    A week in Devon

    Bantham Beach

    Bantham Beach

    Hope Cove

    Hope Cove

    Hope Cove

    Salcombe Harbour

    Salcombe Harbour

    Buckfast Abbey



    Ness Cove, Shaldon

     Ness Cove



    Salcombe harbour

    We've just arrived home after a week in Devon. After our holiday there last year it was inevitable that we'd go back, and this time we stayed further south near Totnes and within driving distance of so many beautiful towns and beaches.  It really is a stunningly beautiful part of the country, I can't believe we'd never been there before last year.

    We stayed in a farm cottage with fabulous sports facilities - swimming pool, badminton court, tennis court, full-sized snooker table, table-tennis, boules, golf. Just brilliant, especially if you've got teenagers in your group and they need something to keep them entertained.  I really enjoyed our morning dips in the pool, and trying my hand at badminton again, although I don't have the energy for the game these days.

    The weather was pretty mixed for the first few days - as you can probably tell from the dramatic skies in some of the pictures above - but the second half of the week was much better and we managed plenty of beach time.

    We managed to visit a few towns: Salcombe, Totnes, and Dartmouth, as well as the fabulous beaches at Shaldon, Blackpool Sands, Hope Cove, Thurlestone and, our favourite, Bantham Beach (top two photos).  I haven't edited any of the photos, just thought I'd publish them as they came, although I'm yearning for a new camera.

    It was just the three of us this year: me and my two girls, and I wonder every year whether this will be the last time we all go away together as a family.  They're getting to the age where they may prefer a holiday with their friends, or boyfriends, and No.1 daughter has already said that she doesn't know what she'll be doing next year, so it could just be two of us, but whatever we do I really want to take our greyhound Alice with us. We didn't take her this year, and as my brother was away at sea, she had to go into kennels, and by all accounts didn't cope very well.  She became quite stressed and refused to eat, and has been quite subdued since she came back home. Poor girl.

    Now that we're back I'm daydreaming once again about living there. One day maybe.

    Wednesday, 1 June 2016

    Saturday mornings with Miriam, and reasons to volunteer

    Not so long ago I wrote about loneliness, and how it's currently an epidemic for our elderly population.

    A couple of months later I took my own advice and contacted the Royal Voluntary Service who run a befriending service in my area. A couple of weeks later, and following the required safety checks,  I was on my way to my first befriending visit with Miriam, an 87 year old lady who lives less than a mile away from me.

    I was nervous and so, it turned out, was she.  It's one thing saying you'd like to visit an older person in their own home, but it's quite nerve wracking when you finally get to do it.  What if we didn't like each other? What if we ran out of conversation? What if...?

    As it turned out we needn't have worried because within a few minutes of meeting, the kettle was on and we were having a cuppa, a choccy biscuit, and a good old natter.

    It's been six months since I started visiting Miriam, and it's become part of my weekend routine. Every Saturday morning I call round to see her for an hour or so, and we watch Saturday Kitchen together, talk about all sorts of things - nothing is off limits - and more often than not we have some real belly laughs.  We've spent time looking for her childhood home town on my iPad, we even found a photo of the school she attended in the 1930s,  and I've introduced her to the joys of social media. She's picked it up really fast too.  These days if we need to check something, she'll say "Can you ask twitter?"

    She has a wicked sense of humour - when she asked me if I could pick something up from the pharmacy for her I said yes, of course, what do you need? "Condoms," she said, "I've got my eye on the 83 year old fella down the road".

    I know Miriam looks forward to my visits because she tells me.  She enjoys the company and knowing that she will see someone every week. She recently told me that she used to stay in bed on Saturdays because there was nothing to get up for. Now, she looks forward to my visit and gets up and dressed, does her hair and 'makes an effort'. It's quite humbling to know that our visits mean so much to her, but it also shows how vital this type of service is.

    It's not all one-way though, because I get a lot out of it too, it's very rewarding and let's be honest, if feels good to know you're making a difference to someone. But more than that, she's become a good friend, she's had an interesting life and I love asking her about it, plus she's given me some cracking advice over the past few months.   Visiting her is a pleasure, not a chore, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who's thought about volunteering.

    This week is #VolunteersWeek.  There are so many ways you can make a difference, and if you can make that weekly commitment of an hour or so it really is worth doing, I promise.  It doesn't have to be befriending, there are plenty of other ways to volunteer that might suit you better.

    I can honestly say it's one of the best decisions I've made recently, just wish I'd done it sooner.

    Are you a volunteer, or have you considered doing it?