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A Tale of Trees - A book that will make you want to plant a tree, or five, immediately. August 15, 2017 12:15

local woodland seen through fresh eyesConfession time. Late last year, I bought my Dad a copy of A Tale of Trees by Derek Neimann for his birthday, safe in the knowledge that I would be shortly 'borrowing' that book back to enjoy myself. Shameless, but true. 

Generous to a fault, I did let him read it first, only to snatch it out of his mitts the moment it became available. And I have to tell you about it, because along with The Garden Awakening by Mary Reynolds, this book has left a lasting impression. 

A Tale of Trees charts the demise and near destruction of Britain's ancient woods. Candid and with good humour, the author draws you deeper and deeper into the plot; involving a hungry, postwar Britain, a farming community under pressure to feed the nation and a small, disparate band of government departments, charities, community groups and conservationists, all working with the best of intention, but often under false pretences. 

Don't be fooled by the unassuming size of this book - it packs a punch. Like all good dramas, it is full action and the story is told at a pace. Within one paragraph you can be transported from Kent's coppiced woodland to the firs and pines of the Scottish highlands. At times, I wanted to grab a map, just to see where I was. And I'll be honest, I felt a little like Martin Freeman's Watson when Sherlock Holmes was trying to explain the findings of his 'mind palace' - mouth open and slightly stupid, in dire need of a few pictures.  

Towards the end of the book, just when you think that the woodland is safe, it's plight finally understood; the delicate balance that is needed for it to prosper; the absolute need for man and wood to work together, to create the right conditions for so many of our native woodland flowers, birds & butterflies, at just that moment, a cruel twist, carried on the winds of the Far East, casts an even darker shadow. 

At this point, I wanted to run outside, dig up the garden and start sowing acorns. This book gets you by the guts and your response is equally visceral. You want the hero, the ancient woodland, to survive and I for one, feel moved to do something about it, no matter how small.

A Tale of Trees is an enlightening read about one of our most precious, treasured habitats. It is a call to action. It is a generous gift; patiently imparting a deeper understanding of our woodland and countryside. And it is an ultimately hopeful tale, told with a good dose of humour and compassion for every party involved. 

Resources & Further Info


Death of the Deckchair? August 11, 2017 18:21 2 Comments

deckchair Nope, we're not branching out into some weird, horror movie involving scary, carnivorous deckchairs. But, it was a question I was asked this week on BBC Radio Kent. Ooh, get me! 

The interview was prompted by a recent report that appeared in the Telegraph, highlighting the decline in deckchair rentals across UK beaches. 'Phased out' is the expression they used (boo) as councils opt for the continental sun lounger over the traditional British deckchair.

Ah, I can't help it, this news makes me sad! For one thing, how can you possibly eat your chips, drink a glass of wine (out of a plaster beaker, obvs) and keep the travel rug over your knees in a force five gale while lying on a sun lounger?! Those continental things are wonderful when the sun is high, the temperatures are in their thirties, and quite frankly, the most sensible thing to do is to lie down. But Margate isn't the Med, is it?! The last fortnight has been downpour after downpour. In August!! You can't throw your eyes to the air, transport your sun lounger to the shed or summerhouse and crack open the malbec. But you can with a deckchair. And therein lies their magic. They are portable party lovers, great for a gathering whenever the opportunity arises. 

One of my strongest memories from my childhood is my grumpy old grandad sat in a deckchair on Dymchurch beach. Fully kitted out in a tweed suit and flat cap (like you do), absolutely steaming on one hot summer's day, back in the eighties. That's the special sauce that they hold. Deckchairs just make you smile. They hold memories of times with family and friends. Memories that may not even be yours, but sat in an old family album somewhere, of summer's spent at the coast. 

Most of us have a habit of valuing what is no longer readily on tap. And, as councils opt for loungers over deckchairs, you may find yourself pining for that touch of nostalgia and comfort that comes with a good old deckchair. So, remember, this summer, when the sunshine does finally come out, go to the beach and rent a deckchair. Otherwise, there will come a time when this is no longer possible. And, if you are organising your own celebration, you can hire a deckchair from us :)  


Wildfowl & weddings at Elmley Nature Reserve August 07, 2017 19:30

deckchair hire at elmley nature reserveIsn't it amazing how you can live with someone for YEARS and still find out something new? When I mentioned that I needed to disappear for an hour to collect deckchairs from the wedding of a really lovely couple that had taken place at Elmley Nature Reserve this weekend, up piped the husband, 'Oh I love Elmley, I studied bird migration there for my final dissertation at uni'.

Er, love Elmley? Not once has that man uttered a syllable about this place before. And as for bird migration -  since when did that become a specialist subject?! Honestly. 'Do you fancy coming with me?' I said nonchalantly, hoping that he'd come along to do the donkey work. 'Yep, that would be great'. Get in. 

Weddings at Elmley nature reserveSo, off we went. What a place to get married. Driving to Elmley across from our little part of Kent is a reminder of what a beautiful, diverse county we live in. Rolling countryside and the sprawl of nearby towns morphs effortlessly into wild marshland, rich with native and visiting birds. Large fresh water habitats sit alongside the vast expanses of salt marsh and mudflats of the Swale. The result is fiesta time for waders and wildfowl, who literally come in their droves for a little R&R of their own. Cattle gently mooch across the marshes; their grazing helping to keep grasses at an optimum level for visiting birds. It's pretty magical stuff.

This sense of balance extends to the wedding venue itself - the barn is set in the middle of the wilderness, offering breathtaking views across the marshes. Head out from the barn and you'll find yourself in a grassed walled garden; the perfect place for a party, and later, as the evening progresses, a fire pit or two, to keep you warm and toasty. 

Nature trails and hides offer a great way to enjoy this very special place, which is open throughout the summer months. We're planning to head back with our own little wildlings very soon. 

For more information or to plan your trip, please visit: www.elmleynaturereserve.co.uk


A guide to keeping your houseplants happy - 10 growing tips and tricks July 30, 2017 10:07

How to look after houseplants Houseplants have never been more fashionable or in demand. They look wonderful in cool, clean scandi styled homes and yet are equally at home against lush, bold hues. Some can literally help clean up the environment; removing formaldehyde and other toxins from the air, while others are just an irresistibly handsome housemate and earn their place in your home and heart for their looks alone. 

Given their popularity and appeal, how is it that so many of us have such a hard time looking after these little plants? Well, I think the term houseplants sets us up for failure. There is no such thing as a plant that prefers a house to live in. They want to be outside, living wild and free. Instead, they begrudgingly take up digs in our homes, throwing the odd strop here and there about the living conditions, which, quite frankly, are a bit below par. Can you imagine living it up in some far flung, tropical hotspot, only to find yourself carted off, stuffed into a concrete pot, and placed on a north facing window sill - with a cold draught blowing in your face morning, noon and night? 

Enough said. Your job is to play the long suffering landlord/lady and pander to their every whim. So, here are ten ways to keep your houseplants happy, enjoying the lifestyle they are accustomed to...

1. Know what you grow. It may sound obvious, but make sure you know what it is you are growing. If you don't want to keep the label on the plant, make a note of it in a journal. Unless you are a bit of a botanical whizz kid, you will find yourself forgetting the some or all of the name of your house plant, which then makes it tricky if you need to google a quick reminder on what to do when the leaves turn brown...!?@!Plant hanger from Denys & Fielding

2. Art imitates life. Or in this case, home imitates jungle / desert / native environment. Whatever plant you have, it has a heritage far beyond a semi in Stockton or a flat in Forest Hill. Find out about the background and natural environment of your plant and then replicate as best you can - for example, opting for free draining composts and soils for a desert dwelling plant such as cacti or succulents. Choosing indirect sunlight for low growing, forest plants. 

3. Keep clean. Washing the dust off of houseplants helps them to function more effectively. Similar to our skin, leaves can get clogged up if they are not kept clean so a quick dust with a damp cloth is normally all that is needed to help them looking and performing at their best.

4. Let water drain away. Because of their natural environment (see point two,) lots of houseplants can't stand sitting in water for too long. Ideally, water with rain water, particularly for succulents and cacti, and allow the water to drain away. Catch any additional drips with a tray

5. Invest in a sprayer / mister. We love a Haws mister. Perfect for creating a little more humidity for plants that dislike our dry, centrally heated homes, such as a Calathea.  

6. Don't be afraid to put houseplants outside, even in the UK! I've a really lovely calamondin orange tree that I've had since it was a wee small thing. As it has grown bigger and bigger, I have had less and less options in terms of where to put it, not just because of the space it takes up, but also because of it's weight. It is not an easy one to move around! So, in the winter, it takes up residence by the back door, a little starved of light, but the best I can do. Once the temperatures go up, we man handle it outside onto our patio to enjoy the full effects of the British summertime...! Even if the temperatures are a little pathetic, it does love the extra light it receives, producing an abundance of flowers and fruit (weirdly at the same time!) as soon as it steps outside. 

7. When it comes to watering, follow the rule of thumb. Avoid feast or famine. Stick your thumb into the soil, down to the crease of your thumb knuckle / joint. If it's dry as dust, give it a water. 

8. Don't assume the bugs and beasties are all on the outside. Pests and diseases can also afflict indoor plants so keep an eye out for signs of suffering - brown or curling leaves, visible eggs or pests hovering around the plant. Which leads us nicely onto...  

9. The more the merrier. Companion planting doesn't have to be just for outside. Plants can support the healthy development of each other inside too. Many herbs are quite happy to sit inside in a sunny spot, and will help deter any pests, just as they do when out in the garden. Basil, Rosemary, Chives and Bay all do a great job at supporting their neighbouring plants whether inside or out.

10. Indirect sunlight is a pretty safe assumption. Lots of houseplants really do not like a lot of sun. Finding a spot that enjoys plenty of light, but not enough sun to scorch, is a safe bet for most. 

Resources: 

Further reading: 

  • If your new to houseplants, we recommend 'How to Grow Stuff' by Alice Vincent. Simple, straight forward advice to add a tinge of green to your fingers. Check out our review of this lovely, helpful book, published earlier this year. 

End of July - Notes from the potager garden July 28, 2017 18:00

companion planting in the potager garden / veg patchAfter months of wall to wall sunshine, last week, the kids broke up from school and, inevitably rain descended. Boo. However, at least it's meant a little less time spent watering, and a little more time sampling the fruits of our labour. 

The runner beans are in full swing, and this week I've been out picking them for dinner. I can't lie, there is a definite sense of pride / smugness to the occasion. Alongside the beans, the rhubarb is back for a second harvest while the gooseberries and blackcurrants are a dim and distant memory, having been picked and safely deposited in the freezer, the next stage of their transformation is the exciting part... wine. We're just waiting for a good crop of blackberries to blend with the currants, to create a rich, warming red wine. Oooh lovely, salivating as I type. 

My onions have had a slightly tougher time. The nasturtiums have taken over the beds, reducing the light that the onions really need to mature and build up in size. But to be honest, I'm happy with onions the size of gobstoppers. They look and taste great, bobbing about whole in a stew. Importantly, they still have that enormous kick and flavour that you get with homegrown veg. Meanwhile the nasturtiums are providing so much for the bugs and beasties around the garden, it feels mean to reduce them down too much. Caterpillars steadily munch their way through the leaves; frogs are enjoying the damp, darker confines the foliage creates and the bees merrily pootle from flower to flower, drinking up the nectar. A few smallish onions seems a small price to pay for the goodness and general sense of cheerfulness they create in the veggie patch. 

Having harvested the red cabbage, I've gained a little slither of bed back, and reused the space to sow beetroot seed. With the veggie patch so close to the house, once the beetroot gets to a useful size, I'll just pop out and pull up what I need on an as and when basis. This is my alternative to 'thinning out' - My selection of beetroot should free up room for the remaining crop to grow. So, biggies first please, form an orderly queue, allowing others to grow, producing a continuous crop over the next few weeks. Perfect for salads and sarnies. Any remaining crop will get pickled, to enjoy over the autumn and winter months.

Living a hybrid life, between indoors and outside, is part and parcel of what Denys & Fielding is all about. But it goes beyond trying to make beautiful home and garden wares that you can enjoy indoors or outside. 

Blurring the boundary between house and garden has definitely helped efforts to grow our own veg. It literally feels like I'm walking into another room - a living larder, where I can just go and help myself. Dare I say it, it's also extended our cooking repertoire. We're guilty for dishing out the same old tried and tested dishes, safe in the knowledge that the kids will eat it and it's easy to do. But growing your own makes you experiment a little more. After all, there is only so much rhubarb crumble any human can take. It forces you to think creatively about how to use the rest of your crop - making jams and preserves for cheese, looking up recipes for home brew concoctions or just meeting up with the neighbours and sharing your spoils.

On a deeper level, removing the boundaries between home and garden has also helped me to enjoy it more at all times of day and night, in all seasons. Mary Reynolds talks about the importance and value of sitting in a garden at night in her book 'Dare to be wild' and for me, she's spot on about the sense of connection and feeling more centred, grounded somehow.  Mixing it up and making a conscious effort to ignore the threshold (and, in fact, skip right over it) also has helped me switch off a little. You find yourself noticing the small things; new growth, insects you've never come across before, the quietening that happens just before a good bout of rain. It's addictive, intoxicating stuff. It'll have you padding out in your slippers with a cup of tea, before anyone else in the house is up. Come evening, it will have you soaking up the last of the day's sunlight and enjoying the whole new lease of life that comes out at night. 

So, go on. Grow something green. It doesn't matter if it's a pot of your favourite herbs, or acres of flowers and veg. For me, the result is the same. Life affirming. 


From Hygge to Lagom: New trends & ideas July 20, 2017 00:00

Lessons in Lagom for gardenersMove over Hygge. There is a new kid in town. Lagom, the Swedish ethos of living life in a balanced, moderate way, is currently hitting headlines as well as bookshelves with a host of new books due for publication in the coming weeks and months.

And for me, it's an interesting one. Lagom has been a long held cultural mainstay of Swedish values of moderation, balance; not too much, not too little. It promotes simplicity, but doesn't forbid the odd indulgence. Critics (mainly Swedes, who understand the far reaching nuances of the term far more than I do) argue that Lagom favours uniformity and the middle ground over individuality and creativity. But for me, as a gardener and nature lover, (and probably thanks to a more 'loose' interpretation) it has a real appeal. And, rather than push Hygge aside, I reckon the two combined in the garden are the perfect mix.

I have lots of friends that find gardening a huge chore. The idea of having a flower beds and borders is simply unappealing to them. And yet, to my mind, that is because the balance is off kilter. A well thought out garden gives as much receives. It takes time but get the mix right, and nature will look after it for you. You'll find yourself happily demoted from chief groundsman, workhorse and dogs body, to simple custodian... who just happens to be nifty with a pair of secateurs when the need arises.

So, what does a balanced garden look like? And how does it take out the work? For me, there are a couple of aspects. Firstly, you have to change your view of your garden or outdoor space and stop thinking about it in 2D. Gardens differ from any other living space you inhabit. They move, change and develop constantly. Your job is to firstly slow down and take this all in. Where would you like to have that first cup of tea in the morning? Where does the sun fall in the garden throughout the day? How does this change with the seasons? Where are the damp, shady areas? What's happening at eye level, or further up? What would you like to remove from your gaze with a nice shrub or tree? What's looking a little worse for wear - either in the wrong soil or space? These kind of questions give you the lay of the land. It also tells you a bit about what the garden needs from you in terms of attention and care e.g. - that area needs sun loving plants, that bit needs something with a bit of height to draw the eye. Over there is tough enough to cope with the kids and a football etc... 

Now, time to get indulgent. What would you LOVE your space to look like? What kind of colours, plants, veggies, flowers etc... When you imagine your garden, how does it change with the seasons? When are the first flowers in bloom? What's still going until the first frost?  

Ok, now time to reign it in, get that balance back in check and think about what all of this needs to be self supporting, allowing nature to do the heavy lifting. For example, if Hostas are on your wishlist, slugs will be your nemesis. Which is fine, because you are forewarned. So, rather than put all those horrible blue pellets around, which to me is the total opposite of balance and moderation, either put your Hostas in pots, opt for the bigger varieties, that tend to be a bit tougher at dealing with slugs, or plant a few Sedums around your Hostas (this works for me! The rubbery texture seems to put them off.) Failing that, introduce some chickens. They'll make mincemeat of those slugs in no time. 

Alternatively, if you fancy growing your own, go for it, but introduce companion plants such as marigolds, rosemary, chives and nasturtiums around your crops. Not only will your veggie plot look like a pastoral paradise, you'll also save yourself time and angst fighting pests. You get to take crops from the earth while putting back in terms of bee and pollinator friendly blooms. Without ever having reached for the spray gun. Balance. Not too much, not too little.

While all of this might take time, trial and error and a little sweat as you plant your plot, long term, you're reducing the workload significantly. Working with nature and your environment rather than fighting it will have it looking and producing abundantly in no time. 

Lastly, back to Hygge. If you accept the interpretation that Lagom in a garden is about the balance between nature and nurture, Hygge is the reward. A chance to sit back and take in all that the garden has to offer. While the garden works, you rest, wrapped in a blanket, fire pit after dark, candles alight. Wonderful stuff. And, less focused on a short lived, much shouted about trend. Instead, a slower paced pursuit of a sustainable, enriching way of life. Just the way nature intended. 


Experimental projects in the garden: Raised wildflower beds July 16, 2017 18:44 2 Comments

Raised beds from Apple binsMy garden is a continuous work in progress. In true 'pioneering / let's give it a whirl' spirit, I’ve recently been cracking on with another experiment in recent months. And it's now time for the big reveal. But first, the backstory...

I have two small dwarf apple trees and a few cordon apples running along the fence between myself and my neighbour. When I planted these, I had visions of bountiful harvests of apples.

Ha.

No such luck.

Despite fairly good growth since the apple trees were planted around seven years ago, pollination has been abysmal. The bugs and beasties seem totally disinterested and zoom straight past. As a result, I get just a handful of measly looking apples each year. Undeterred by my lack of success, and enthused by a magnificent meadows talk I'd heard, I originally wanted to create an area of wild flowers directly under the fruit trees to help encourage pollinators. However, on sharing ideas and swapping notes with family and friends, it turns out that you need to leave a little space under fruit trees to ensure that pests and diseases don’t start to impact the trees. Or, at very least opt, for herbs and flowers that will provide good companion plants to the trees. 

Plant B was the creation of raised beds from old apple bins. By having flowers at a higher level I thought we might benefit from a little more height, interest and privacy in our garden. It would also limit the amount of damage that could be done by footballs and little feet whirling around. And, if I'm honest, there was a touch of whimsy about the whole project too. In my native Kent countryside, apple orchards are a precious sight around the county and I love seeing old apple bins piled up on the side of orchards, ready to be filled up. It reminds me of my childhood spent on an apple farm, making camps with my sister while my Mum and her friends picked the fruit. 

Wildflower raised beds - July 2017 Denys & FieldingFull of enthusiasm and nostalgia, I zipped along to my nearby friendly farmer to acquire a couple of bins which cost me just £10 each. Can you imagine buying a planter of that size for anywhere near that price!? Bargain. While apple bins are large, I can confirm that you can load them up into a grubby old estate with absolutely no problem at all! 

Having got them home, I put them in position (they are surprisingly light but their size means this is a two man job really) and then started to get them ready for planting. These steps included:

  1. Lining the inside of the apple bin with plastic sheeting. I used a thick black polythene which I secured to the apple bin with the help of a craft staple gun. 
  2. Cutting holes in the base of the plastic. This is to help with drainage. I was careful to only make holes between the slats of the apple bin underneath. This is to make sure that water can  run straight to the ground, rather than directly onto the wooden base of the bin - hopefully extending its lifetime for as long as poss. 
  3. Adding plenty of old bricks, broken pieces of terracotta pots and stones, again to improve drainage but also to ensure I didn’t end up having to find too much soil. These bins are big and I knew they would take a lot of filling up. Talking of which....
  4. Filling up with leaves from around the garden: This would save on having to find or buy lots of top soil. It also gave me something useful to do with all the leaves that have been piling up in and around the garden. For a bit of added oomph I slung in a good few barrows of horse manure.
  5. Leaving everything to ‘settle’  - I left the leaves for a few weeks to decay a little more and drop in level thinking 'that will level out soon'. Er, no. Throughout the winter, I piled on more and more leaves, debris and general tut from around the garden. Without fail, within a week, or so, the level had rotted down and I had to repeat the process. This went on until the end of April. Seriously. Worried that I wouldn't have enough time to plant up or sow seeds, I nabbed a load of top soil which was going spare from a friend. This is the experimental bit really. I had no idea if this concoction will prove too rich for seeds or if it will have them doing cartwheels...
  6. Now the fun bit - adding seeds and plants. I bought a mix of wild flowers from Paul at Meadow in my Garden. Paul was brilliant at allaying my 'rich soil' fears. I had heard that wildflowers tend to like a tough life - not too many nutrients in the soil etc… so I wasn't entirely sure if my cocktail of leaves, manure and soil will be too rich. Paul recommended the perfect seed mix, but I still was worried. I thought my efforts at soil making may somehow manage to kill these seeds before they really got going. To guarantee some colour and enjoy some immediate results from all the shovelling that had gone on for months, I added a geum in each apple bin along with an achillea and verbena. 

Gardening tips - Denys & FieldingThe whole project has cost no more a very thrifty £35.00. But the result is worth tenfold. I needn't have worried about the wildflowers. Paul's recommendation was spot on. Within a week of sowing, seedlings were up and visible. In fact, the wildflower growth has been prolific. It's been fascinating to watch these gorgeous blooms spring into action. Every time I have had to work away for a couple of days, I've enjoyed coming back and seeing how much things have moved on. The icing on the cake has been the sight of all of the butterflies, bugs or bees in our garden. Absolutely incredible. And, thanks to a dry, warm Spring, and perhaps the late introduction of a few more pollinators, we also have more fruit than ever on our apple trees. 

But more than that, I've a real, deep affection for these raised beds. The verbena sways around with butterflies clinging on, unperturbed by the movement. The cornflowers with their electric blue tones, keep coming and coming. The achillea is a huge hit with the bees and hover flies. There is absolutely no maintenance, with the exception of watering. Don't even think about weeding. What's a weed in amongst this lot? I've no idea. The lines are so blurred, you just live and let live. Free and easy gardening and thanks to the weather, lots of long, sunny evenings to just sit back, take stock and enjoy.

*Article originally part of a series written for the Girl in a Hard Hat blog


A weekend away - notes from Deal, Kent July 03, 2017 17:17 6 Comments

A review of Deal in KentI feel torn writing this post. I almost don't want to share. But as long as it's just between you, me and the gatepost, we're good. 

Because I need to tell you about the wonderful seaside town of Deal. Cat & I packed our beach gear and headed there for the weekend (a very special, generous treat for me from my lovely sister, to help me come to terms, er, I mean, celebrate, turning 40).  And now, it is firmly placed in my top three coastal towns. 

Why? 

Well, its as if this town has read all the headlines, doom and gloom and general despair in world and said 'Um, not for us, thank you!' and decided to do it's own thing. It isn't just the beautiful, winding streets and lanes. Nor the gorgeous architecture inherited from a long military and fishing history. It isn't just the sea views. It is the way in which people here choose to live and celebrate their beautiful town now.

The buildings are covered in window boxes and baskets full of smiley geraniums and begonias. Deal has a high street brimming with independent shops, as well as a small but well supported local market. We spotted not one but TWO independent greengrocers - hooray! And, rather than being tucked away in some backstreet, a community centre and town garden enjoy prime position, smack bang along that lovely high street, with people sat in the garden chatting, or enjoying a drink from a well placed bar in the grounds. This town has just got it right. 

As luck would have it, our weekend away coincided with the Deal Festival, a fortnight long celebration of music and arts, which is now in it's 35th year. The town was in full swing, with concerts, talks and events taking place; artists flinging open their doors as part of an open house / art trail and music playing on the high street throughout the day. 

In the evening, Deal's cafes, restaurants and bars filled up. Everything from fish and chips to michelin star delights were on offer to suit all tastes and budgets. Over on the promenade, kids playing on bikes were pulling wheelies and comparing speeds, courteously shouting 'Oops, sorry' when they had the odd near miss with passersby. Cheerful, upbeat & unpretentious pretty much summed up the buzz of the town. 

Despite staying just a stone's throw away from the high street, night time was extremely quiet and restful. Even the seagulls took the hint and simmered down. Important stuff when your (almost) forty and (definitely) frazzled.

Perhaps Deal owes some of its appeal to the location. Getting to Deal is a little out of the way, even for us Kentish maids. You basically head down to Dover and just before you get your toes wet, turn left. Deal sits far beyond the Kent commuter belt. It has escaped the commercial demands made upon neighbouring Dover. And, to me, it is all the better for it. Instead of whizzing past a turning on some motorway, you visit Deal with a specific purpose - to rest, shop, enjoy the beach or meet up with friends. This might be why the traffic felt easier and strangers chatted, passing the time with each other. Very fitting of the town's motto - "Adjuvate Advenas" - Befriend the stranger. It well and truly won us over. 

So, although it pains me to say it, visit Deal. It is a vibrant little seaside town that offers the perfect escape away from it all. Just don't tell everyone... 


Introducing our new tray collection! June 22, 2017 20:30

The idea behind introducing a range of trays to our collection began with an accident. With a growing collection of indoor plants, balanced precariously along a very narrow window sill in the bathroom, the inevitable happened. Saucers went flying, soil was spilled and I was one very unhappy bunny. 

After a search online to find the perfect size drip tray proved fruitless, we decided to make our own. It's perhaps not the most in-depth, rational approach to product design, but for us, it works. If we have trouble finding something that fits the bill, we talk to customers, friends and family to find out if they've experienced similar. We try and find something we'd really, really love in our homes, and if after all this, we are still left wanting, we look for ways to make something ourselves. 

So, what's different about our trays? Well, for starters, they are available in our four, gorgeous fruity, feathery and floral designs - namely cherry, leaf, feather & patsy. They are slim, elegant trays - perfect for your average size window sill and even cope with my extremely narrow version (see pic!). They are made from recycled materials and won't warp if they get a thorough soaking while plants are watered.

Another really important factor for us is that the trays are made in the UK. It's not that we think British products are better, or more superior. We are just passionate about keeping our carbon footprint as small as possible and truly believe that the simple act of making something keeps people, communities and societies happy. So, making our garden and homewares in the UK is our way of waving the flag for the home side. 

We hope that the result of all this is a range of trays that are useful drip tray for houseplants and indoor gardening activities, as well as perfect serving trays for mealtimes and get togethers. To keep things simple, we've included post and packaging in the price. We hope you love them - please let us know either way. We always appreciate the feedback :) Here is a link to shop the tray range... Enjoy! 


Evenings amid the veg: A summer solstice update June 21, 2017 19:08

How to create a potager garden - Denys & FieldingWhat a wonderful few sunny week's we've had. While mother nature had added the sunshine each day, every evening, I've been bringing out the watering can. New life, in all its richness and abundance, has been our reward. 

When I last wrote about our veg patch, which we created in January 2016, I was worried about planting too early, in case frost caused a problem (what was I thinking?!@); thrilled at the sight of nasturtiums that had seeded and reappeared from the year before; and just a teensy, weansy but excited about promise of the gooseberries, which had survived a move from another part of the garden. 

Well, it is incredible what a few week's can bring. The nasturtiums that were so tentative and shy in their reemergence? Now dominating the beds and little shingle pathways all around. I love their free spirited growth and wild abandon. Just brilliant. They are also fantastic at keeping bugs and beasties off the crops. Beautiful and useful in equal measure.

The beans that I fretted over are now zooming up the bean poles and look set to create a few flowers, and therefore beans, in the next few weeks. The onions will be ready in around four weeks. But the showstoppers, the absolute divas of the veg patch, have to be the red cabbages. These girls have survived 'over wintering', when they looked extremely dicey at times, and are now in full glory, ready to harvest. I'm not sure if veg should look joyful, but these do. They are beautiful and they know it. I love them. Grow your own veg - Denys & Fielding

The gooseberries will soon be picked and then head off to demi johns to make what I hope will be the most delicious, crisp, dry white wine. Exactly the kind my Dad used to make for myself and my housemates when we were at uni. Other students would be dutifully dropped off with a baking tray of lasagne or a bag of shopping for the week. Me? Two sacks of homegrown potatoes and a box (a BOX!) of home-brewed, white wine. Result. Trust me, these kind of rations could keep you going an entire term. Well, at the very least, the potatoes lasted a good few weeks :) 

At a time when we are incredibly grateful to be as busy as we are with Denys & Fielding, our newly established little veg patch offers a wonderful retreat and a reminder of what started this business - a love of life outdoors. 


Stylish Garden Furniture & Accessories: Our top pick of UK Makers and Designers June 04, 2017 17:21

Garden accessories - twine, scissors and stringWhen it comes to stylish garden furniture & accessories, finding something a little different isn't always easy. It was this very problem that prompted us to start Denys & Fielding. However, we think the tide is turning. 

Leading the charge is a mix of established and emerging UK makers and companies offering something a little different. Here are our top picks to help you style your outdoor space this summer... 

Bee Palace

Later this month, we'll be with the lovely folk from Bee Palace at the upcoming Rare Brand Summer Market at Goodwood. Their glazed earthenwares make perfect homes for solitary bees and are available in a range of beautiful colours. 

Benchmark

Clearly, when it comes to stylish garden furniture, we like to think that you can do no better than a folding wooden deck chair for the garden... :) But if tables and benches are on the shopping list, we love Benchmark. Set up by Sean Sutcliffe and Terence Conran in 1984, Benchmark produce beautifully crafted wooden furniture for both commercial buyers and individual customers. If you are after a bench with a sense of wit and style, look no further than the Blooming Bench from Benchmark. Just add good company, your favourite flowers and you'll be stylishly seated in no time.

De La Torre Ceramics

Hanging baskets. I'll be honest here, I am not a fan. I know. This is not a popular statement. Nor am I am wild about those similar style baskets / troughs that you attach to walls. Mark De La Torre offers a beautiful, pared down alternative. Wall planters that are just perfect for one variety of trailing flowers, herbs or succulents. Simple. Stylish. Sorted.  

Garden Oven Company

Nothing beats eating outside. A fellow member of 'Made in Britain', the Garden Oven Company design and manufacture beautiful wood fired ovens. Perfect for pizzas, you can also grill, smoke and roast to your heart's content. 

 [image: The Garden Oven Company]

Griffin Glasshouses

I've been hankering after a greenhouse from these guys since Cat & I spotted them at Hampton Court Flower Show back in 2015. That is two WHOLE YEARS of drooling! The design and manufacture all takes place in Hampshire and for me it's those lovely lean to glasshouses that are just beautiful. All I need now is for someone to build me a wall to accommodate one... I'm serious. I'm, er, going build a wall... a friendly, inclusive, fruit growing, veggie loving type of wall.

Haws

Haws watering cans are built to last and ridiculously handsome to boot. We also love their small sprayers which are perfect for house plants and glasshouses (just seen in image above). 

Nutscene 

This Scottish based company produces brilliantly strong, quality garden twine in a tin. We love it. In fact, so much so, we stock it. Shop your garden twine essentials here.


On location: tropical garden style and inspiration May 29, 2017 10:53

deckchairs and contemporary garden furniture: Denys & FieldingLast week, we were really lucky to find ourselves in the most beautiful contemporary garden. Lush, tropical planting combined effortlessly with gorgeous mediterranean style terracotta pots filled with Cordylines and Olives. Add in sunshine and a beautiful, warm swimming pool and quite frankly, we were looking to move in. 

Aside from being the perfect place to photograph our deckchairs, cushions and a NEW SECRET SQUIRREL but hugely exciting new product line (EEEK!) it also provided plenty of planting inspiration. With a notebook full of ideas, here are my top five easy steals from this beautiful garden: 

Underplanting. Sounds vaguely risqué but anyway, underplanting is a tropical garden essential. Tropical gardens are all about the foliage at different levels. Many plants absolutely thrive in full shade or semi shady spots because they herald from lush, jungly locations in which shade is a given. I spotted Acanthus mollis (bear's breeches) looking very happy and handsome in the darker confines of the garden. Gorgeous clumps of ferns (ostrich ferns, I think) were growing together in a large groups, rather than dotted around and the result was instant impact. The limey green foliage looked beautiful against the dark, plum coloured leaves of Heuchera as well as Hostas and bright, yellow Lilies half submerged in a shallow pond. 

Water: Talking of ponds, let me just mention the water in this garden. From the gentle rippling of the pond, nestled in and surrounded by lush, damp loving plants, through to the palm springs style swimming pool in a bright, sun filled hotspot; water was abundant and celebrated in this beautiful garden. All too often I moan about my garden being too wet or damp. Instead, this owner had made water a feature and celebrated it in style, in two very different ways. Absolutely gorgeous. 

Mediterranean garden inspiration - Denys & Fielding

Tough Love: Up until last week, I thought my Cordyline looked pretty happy in my garden. But it looks SO different to the ones spotted in this tropical garden. So much so, I didn't recognise them as Cordylines at first. To start with, they were in flower. Mine has never flowered in eight years! I had no idea they had such delicate, pretty wafts of flowers amid their spiky foliage. The other huge difference was the planting. My Cordyline has been planted straight in the ground whereas these were planted in huge terracotta pots dotted around the patio. The result is hot, hot, hot for their roots with few nutrients in the soil. But, a little tough love was doing wonders, as they looked stunning. I now look at my solitary Cordyline and feel it is all bit pathetic & mollycoddled. Poor thing. 

Gangsta's Paradise: Now, let's talk gangsters. Not real ones, obvs, but the garden variety. Trachycarpus fortunei. These wonderful, prehistoric looking plants that carry on with a swagger, irrespective of what the weather throws at them. I asked about any special care these required or feeds and the owner said they just do their thing with very little care. No wrapping up in the winter. No feeds. In fact, the owner described them as 'thugs', muscling their way through, come what may. For me, they looked magnificent, adding to the sense of glamour and style in the garden. 

Thinking Vertically: As much as I loved the swimming pool area and seating in and around the garden, it was the clever, imaginative way in which the back of the garden had been terraced that for me, was just brilliant. Two staircases either side of a centre bed add drama to the garden. It actually reminded me of that big old staircase in 'Gone with the wind'. Or the one in Sex in the City when Carrie spots Big at the theatre and legs it. It works brilliantly as a frame for the planting in the centre and for the entire garden, drawing your eye up and around this beautiful space. I love the feeling of sitting 'in' a garden, literally immersed in it. The extra height this terracing provides really gives you a sense of that. It offers a retreat and an escape from the world. A tropical hiding place, not a long haul flight away, but in deepest, darkest Kent. Perfect. 

Tropical garden ideas: furniture, patio sets and styling


Notes from the Garden: First fruits May 17, 2017 00:00

Early Fruits on apple trees - Denys & FieldingThe garden in Spring always reminds me of that Zorba the Greek dance. It starts off slowly, a kick here, a nod there and all of a sudden... IT IS OFF! Right now, the garden is at full speed and I love it. The wilful, devil may care whirlwind of colour & frenetic energy is just brilliant. 

But, while the riot of colourful flowers are out front, high kicking all the away, it is the quieter emergence of fruit that for me, is the most exciting thing happening out there. 

The last few years have been hit and miss in terms of fruit production in my garden. Wet, bedraggled winters have resulted in a lack of pollination for our young cordons. Gooseberries and blackcurrants had sat in the wrong part of the garden for years, suffering from a good deal of neglect and all that the weather had to throw at them. 

Recently, we've tried to rectify all that we can. The front garden is now the veggie garden, close enough to a tap to get watered a bit more regularly and receive a little more attention. I've a row of young apple trees, growing as cordons along one fence. Having read up a bit on apple pollination groups, I now have a happy little gang, each helping the other out to produce more fruit. 

And all of a sudden, it is starting to pay off. 

First Fruits: Gooseberries - Denys & FieldingFor the first time in EIGHT years, the pear cordons have pollinated. Honestly, I can't tell you how excited I am about this. I am literally the human version of that flamenco dancing emoji, shimmying about the place. 

Moreover, the apples are showing more fruit than ever. The gooseberries and blackcurrants survived the undignified way in which they were uprooted and moved to the new veg patch last autumn and are producing the goods. 

So, now all that we need is rain overnight and sunshine by day for the next few weeks and we'll be gorging ourselves on berries and blooms from the garden. Ah. The weather. Ok, well, let's see...

I'm expecting the apples to start to follow the time old tradition of the 'June Drop' in the next few weeks - nothing serious, just nature's way of thinning out the crop to produce the best fruit with minimum damage to the tree. If nature needs a hand, I have my Dad's old fruit farm diaries from the late seventies as a reference, where he recorded how and when they thinned fruit. More on that, if needed, next month. 

In the meantime, if all this talk of food has got you thinking about growing your own, here are five easy ways to get started this week... 

1. Tomato plants: Cheap, easy and ready to buy now, tomato plants are perfect for a warm, sunny windowsill. All they need is feeding regularly once in flower, pinching out side shoots (to keep them on the straight and narrow, so to speak, in terms of fruit production) and a bit of space and support as they grow. If you decide to position them outside, just keep an eye out for late frosts and bring in if colder weather is due. 

2. Runner beans. Talking of weather, I'm going to go for it and sow some beans this weekend. Frost and cold days, begone! Sow seeds in close proximity to a pole, bamboo cane or broomstick and with fingers firmly crossed for warm weather, you'll have the sprouts of newly germinated bean seed in no time. 

3. Space savers: If space is a problem, there are plenty of edibles to grow in pots. Herbs do brilliantly in all sorts of spaces, but you can also grow carrots, lettuce, rocket and chard really easily in pots dotted around the place. Just choose a tall pot for carrots as they need plenty of growing room underground. Strawberries also do well in planters as well as in hanging baskets. Ooh, and I've just remembered about my friend who grows lettuce in a length of guttering positioned half way up her fence. No back breaking needed! 

King John's Nursery, Ticehurst4. Grow together: You often find you have more seed than you need in an average packet of seed. So go to the garden nursery with a friend, buy a selection between you and split the bounty as and when it appears. Most garden nurseries around here also offer a mean cuppa and cake (photo from King John's Nursery in Ticehurst, Kent. Literally, a slice of heaven can be found up there!). Rude not to! 

5. Unplug and plant: Just like tomato plants, there are all sorts of veggies that have been grown from seed and are sat in the garden nursery, awaiting your arrival. If seeds aren't your thing, make life easy. Simply, purchase, unplug and plant. No one will ever know...


Our first internship at Denys & Fielding May 15, 2017 11:42 2 Comments

Putting our garden furniture together: Denys & FieldingI had just read and reviewed In the Company of Women, when a friend asked if I would be interested in having an intern join Denys & Fielding for a week or two. I hesitated. A million little questions, doubts and concerns zipped through my mind at lightening speed. Mainly focused on whether I could offer an enriching experience for Andree, a talented, mature student undertaking a masters in Fashion and Interiors at the University of Creative Arts, with a background in furniture design. Gulp.

How would she feel about working in such a small company? What would she make of the 'hands on' nature of assembling the garden chairs for dispatch, packing up cushions and garden apron orders? The daily 'stop / start' nature of running a business interjected school runs and homework (theirs not mine. Although to be fair, it's a thin line...) The LONG hours that such a staccato timetable creates? 

Then I got a hold of myself. How could I possibly turn down the opportunity to welcome a creative woman into this little company, having only just evangelised about the importance and the life affirming value of supporting and cheering the success of complete strangers? So, in the spirit of sharing, here is how we made it work...

Setting Goals

I've never been an intern, but I have experienced that nullifying effect of having to 'shadow' someone in the first few weeks in a new job. Honestly. What a waste of time. I was determined that the experience I would offer would be far more rewarding for both parties. So, a few week's in advance, Andree & I met up and scoped out some ideas about how we would spend our time together. 

It sounds obvious, but our initial first step was to discuss what we both wanted in terms of ideal outcomes. We started off quite broad; each taking turns to discuss the bigger picture of our respective work, and then, starting to focus down on the gaps. We looked for areas where those gaps overlapped - providing an opportunity for both of us. Together, we came up with an overview of the two weeks - which included attending and selling at a garden show, packing up orders for stockists and customers; a review of the business, prototyping and producing a canvas storage bag for our stowaway chairs - (providing an ideal, protective cover for easy storage in the boot of a car or shed) and finally, developing a new print for our collection.

Quite a ten days. But by meeting in advance, and spending a couple of ideas sharing our experiences and our ideal next steps, we were really able to get in 'sync', understanding each others' priorities. 

Step out of that comfort zone! 

Making up deck chairs - Denys & FieldingThroughout the two weeks, there were moments when both of us felt out of our depth. For Andree, it was my insistence about the business review. Here was a great opportunity for someone to provide me with some feedback, with a unique perspective from both from outside and within the business. Hooray! And yet for Andree, the thought of undertaking this task in such a small business where the people and the company are synonymous, was uncomfortable.

For me, I worried that my 'self taught' approach to running Denys & Fielding might start to unravel. And I really worried about the sheer volume of packing and dispatching that needed to take place. As a result, we ring fenced time that would be dedicated to design and development, versus time for 'domestics'. 

Reflect and Review 

Last Thursday night, after a few days away from each other to reflect, we met for a celebratory drink and to review our combined experiences. For me, our review was a really special evening. A milestone if you like, not just of a two week internship stint, but of the fact that our little company is strong enough to absorb and add value to an additional person. I came away with my business review - beautifully presented of course, but packed with constructive, honest feedback. I've already implemented at least three ideas.

Thankfully, the task of the business review also provided value and insight for Andree, replacing the initial feelings of doubt and discomfort. Meanwhile, back in her comfort zone, Andree somehow managed to create two stunning new prints which blend traditional elements with an edgy, contemporary twist. To me, these new designs are  two cousins to our existing collection - different but connected. I felt quite moved by Andree's interpretation of our style and her development of it. For Andree, she felt she gained a really practical insight into the running of a small business - the good, the bad and the ugly! And together, we achieved an awful lot. 

Would I recommend internships for small companies? Absolutely. It won't implode your business. It will make you more organised, not less. And it will give you a rich, new perspective that money cannot buy.  


Notes from the Garden: Repotting & top dressing pots and planters May 05, 2017 02:30

Repotting and top dressing plants - tips and tricksIn and around the house, I've got a number of plants that have been experiencing the horticultural equivalent of tight trousers. Deeply unpleasant. So, over the bank holiday weekend, I snatched a couple of hours to remedy the situation. 

Two of my outdoor pots are home to beautiful hydrangeas. Because they demand ericaceous soil to keep their blooms blue, I home them in pots instead of the open ground. With their growth now in full swing, they need all the goodness and nourishment they can get. In the largest pot, much of the existing soil had compacted down and reduced over the last 12 months. It is extremely heavy and difficult to move,  so I just gently scrapped off the top inch or two of soil and then added a really generous layer of new ericaceous soil. For the smaller hydrangea, a similar thing had occurred, with the soil level dropping considerably, but because she was lighter, I simply eased the whole plant and root system out, removed a lot of the old soil at the root base and in the bottom of the pot, and then added new compost - bringing the level up from the bottom. Removing old and dead leaves and dressing the top soil was the last thing to do before giving both a really good water. At some point, these plants will need repotting, but by top dressing the largest, and doing a hybrid 'top dress and repot' of the smaller, I think I've bought myself another year or two. 

Looking after your house plantsIt is a different story for my house plants. A few of the succulents are romping away and this has meant repotting them into larger pots. The result is pretty much overnight growth - the plants receive a new source of nutrients and space, which in turn leads to a  new lease of life. Finding beautiful, large planters for indoors is a challenge so I've been collecting ideas on a special, planter board on Pinterest. Many of these are pure black and white, which off set the bright vibrant tones of our scatter cushions, plants and foliage that are dotted around our home. 

While many guides will advise you to repot and top dress plants in mid spring, I'm never sure whether that means earlier on (you know, in that 20 degree heat we had) or now (when it is absolutely blinking baltic!) Instead, I tend to take my lead from the plants - if they are pot bound with roots showing at the bottom, definitely, absolutely move on ASAP. With perennials or shrubs in outdoor planters, I tend to wait until new leaves are established, but before the flowers or buds emerge. For me, it is a pattern and a ritual that works and luckily, I've never lost one yet.

***What are your tips and tricks? Please add your knowledge and experience in the comments below!*** 


Wild about Gardens 2017 May 02, 2017 18:21

Wildlife gardensPrepare yourselves. Or rather, prepare your gardens. Kent Wildlife Trust has sounded the horn and the 2017 Wild About Gardens Awards are now underway! Last Thursday, I was lucky enough to be invited to hear more about this year's awards, which includes several new categories such as best garden for wild birds and best garden for hedgehogs. There are also awards for best urban garden, best small / balcony or container garden and cool school for nature. So, no excuses, you can go it alone or look to enter a school garden or local community project!

The timing for the awards is pretty much perfect. Over the next few months, gardens experience their annual growth spurt, with an abundance of flowers and foliage galloping away. This in turn means 'dinnertime' for bugs and beasties, so it is extremely important that wildlife get an invite for tea in your garden.

A sobering statistic from last Thursday's talk is still playing on my mind. In the last 70 years, 98% of meadows have disappeared. To me, this is pretty desperate, not just for our wildlife, but for our own wellbeing. However, gardens offer a ray of hope. There are acres and acres (around 667,000 acres to be exact) of private gardens, large and small, that can create safe havens, corridors, restaurants and homes for our furry and feathery friends. And let's be honest, a silent garden is not normal. A buzz here and a flap of wings there, offering a constant humming background to your pottering, is all part of the immersive, therapeutic effects of life outside.

If your garden is more wildlife 'library' than party central, read our recent post about five easy ways to make your garden more wildlife friendly. Meanwhile, if you are on the cusp of entering and not sure whether to take the plunge, let us allay your fears with a round up of our experience of the Kent Wild About Gardens Awards last year. We'll be entering again this year as we found it to be a wonderful opportunity to receive a little feedback on the garden and swap ideas. Wish us luck and good luck to you!


Castles & Camping: A weekend at Toby's Garden Festival, Devon May 01, 2017 10:06

Toby's Garden FestivalWhen the opportunity came to head down the A303 and spend the weekend selling our deckchairs, cushions and garden wares in Devon, I jumped at the chance. After a three year stint of living in Devon, it is a part of the world that has a really special place in my heart. Add beautiful plants for sale, gorgeous independent bakers, brewers and makers selling their wares in the grounds of Powderham Castle, and I was sold.

The only thing missing from this perfect busman's holiday weekend was accommodation. I was thinking cosy little B&B by the coast, however, my husband had other ideas. While I spent last week getting ready for the show, I left him in charge of finding accommodation. The result - wild camping in woodland on the edge of Dartmoor. Really?! I mean, really!? 

Toby's Garden Festival, Powderham CastleBut, as it turns out, the combination of a castle by day, and camping by night, worked perfectly. Toby's Garden Festival is a garden event brimming with atmosphere. A flower clad folk band set the tone, welcoming people into the Festival grounds. Stalls selling superb, high quality plants, gifts and garden accessories were set in and around the house and gardens. The 'open house' atmosphere was palpable as visitors meandered around, with the sight of deers doing much the same in the park and estate surrounding us. Workshops and talks were the perfect mix of information and entertainment. Hearth and Cook kept us well fed and warm with their cooking demos on a stylish range of outdoor ovens. In fact, hunger was the least of our worries with the selection of food stalls on offer (and believe me, we sampled LOTS). 

Wilderness Camping in DevonLike Hansel and Gretel, we scurried back to the woods of an evening, staying at the magical Ashbourne Woods in Rattery. Don't let the name put you off. Surrounded by 68 acres of woodland, but in walking distance of a brilliant pub serving top notch suppers, Ashbourne Woods is a camping site that has just got it right - plenty of space and privacy with amenities close at hand. 

Despite the long days and the long drive home, the generosity of spirit we encountered and simple pleasures offered by the beautiful landscape and surroundings left a lasting impression. And of course I couldn't resist loading the van with a few new 'essentials'... plants and shrubs for the garden including a very handsome Restios - lovely, living reminders of a great weekend. 


Friend or Foe? Gardening 'freestyle' April 20, 2017 18:31

Gardening advice for beginnersOne Friday night, a good eight or ten years ago, I remember watching Gardener's World. Slouched on the sofa, and I'll admit, under the influence of the obligatory 'we made it to Friday' vino, I watched, nonchalant, until thunder struck. 

A letter from a viewer jolted me out of my stupor. A guy, let's call him Malcolm, had written to the GW team about the horror of finding that the celandine, which was occupying much of his front garden, had somehow made the leap over the garage and was now colonising out the back. I'm not sure whether Monty was hamming it up, or Malcolm was genuinely beside himself at the sight of this infringement. But as soon as an image of the culprit appeared on screen, I went white. 

I had this bad boy in my garden. 

Cue phone call to Dad. 

"Er Dad, it's me. Are you watching Gardener's World". 

"Nope."

[Seriously. I am a young, child free, early thirty something at this point. Mum & Dad are retired. Why AM I watching Gardener's World, and they are not?! Sigh. Anyway...]

"Well, they've just shown an image of celandine and it's serious Dad. I mean, it leaps over buildings and springs up everywhere."

"Right."

"Dad, this is serious, what am I going to do, it's EVERYWHERE!"

At this point, I feel the need to explain my lack of celandine awareness. In the years before this defining moment, I'd lived and weeded happily in the gardens & window boxes of rented flats, shared houses and then, finally, my own little two up two down home. In all that time, I'd never come across celandine. And now I was scared. 

Dad's response had that level headed, whiff of wisdom that now, I hope I impart to my own kids. "Do you like it? Because that's all that matters, Lizzie. If you like it, keep it. It is your garden." 

Ah, yes. Of course. I am a gardener. No wait, I'm an adult! I can choose. Ooh, get me. 

Well, I decided to keep it. Years on, my celandines often provide the first flash of colour in the garden after winter and I love them. I've since learned that I'm in good company. Wordsworth's favourite flower was not a daffodil, but the wild, free spirited celandine. Celandines offer bugs and bees a much needed source of food and nourishment after the cold winter months. It's a native of the UK. For these reasons alone, (not the mention the fact that I suspect it is a devil to get rid of completely) it warrants a place in my garden. 

Like so many other walks of life, there is a lot of information available about gardening, but not always a lot of wisdom. Your garden is your space. Be inspired and informed by others, but ultimately, fill it with things that you love. Create the environment that suits you and your style. That way, friends will be plenty and foes thankfully, few. 


Deck chairs at Wiveton Hall, Norfolk April 18, 2017 11:50

Beautiful old building at wiveton hallOur Denys & Fielding journey has already taken us to some really interesting places. And while our small outdoor living company is pretty embryonic, thankfully, it keeps throwing up inspiration at just the right time. Yesterday was no exception. 

Wiveton Hall is a beautiful mismatch of holiday cottages, a shop, pick your own farm, gorgeous cafe and garden walks with sea views over the Norfolk marshes. It is a pretty magical place and we are thrilled that a small selection of our beach chairs and deck chairs are now in stock at the shop. When the opportunity came to organise the delivery of our deck chairs and beach chairs, I was determined that this was one trip that wouldn't be made by the courier company. So, going in the opposite direction from (most) of the Easter bank holiday traffic, I headed up to Norfolk to visit this beautiful place.

As luck would have it, my visit coincided with an open day for the gardens. The sun was out, a crisp, gentle breeze was blowing in from the sea and I was kid free - HEAVEN! I took the hint and headed out to the grounds to enjoy a walk around the gardens. 

Wiveton Hall The path took me around dappled woodland, brimming with bluebells in full colour. Dense clusters of cow parsley, about to burst with new blooms, danced along the edges of the wood and around a large, natural pond. Around the big house and through a higgedly piggedly set of outbuildings, a more formal walled garden appeared, with beautiful old pear trees nestled against the stone walls of the garden. I loved the mix of formal flower beds in between a small orchard at one end of the garden and potager style veggies and flowers at the other. In the corner of the walled garden was a gardener's hut - complete with old tweed coats that have seen better days, hanging from the open window. In the background, I could hear children exchanging imaginative stories with a serious 'RADA esque' dose of drama -  convincing each other of the 'ghosts' that live in Wiveton Hall. No need for a smart phone or iPad here. These kids were revelling in the sights, smells and stories, real or otherwise, that this beautiful placed conjured up. 

Along with gorgeous gift and home wares, there is also a 'coop' with vintage furniture and a lovely choice of retro enamel signs for sale. A seriously good cup of tea is also yours, courtesy of the cafe, which was in full swing when I visited; serving tasty, seasonal plates of food to hungry visitors. 

Wiveton Hall is now open for the summer season. To find out more about Wiveton Hall, or to plan your trip, visit: http://www.wivetonhall.co.uk. 


Gardening in shady spots April 13, 2017 10:04

Plants for shady spotsIt is a beautiful morning here. At some point today, I'm determined to get an hour out in that garden and get cracking. While I've been enjoying the sunshine, the warmer, sunnier weather has also got me thinking about the quieter, darker areas of the garden. The damp, shady little spots that get a little dappled light, if they are v. good and extremely lucky. 

While I am a complete, unabashed sun lover, those shady spots in my garden hold a special place in my heart. For starters, they smell different. The air is fresh and a little damp. There is a little touch of magic about the way the lichen and moss grip to every stone and old tree stump. Little colonies of mushrooms appear at other times of the year. I love grabbing my stowaway chair and literally sitting in amongst it all, soaking it up. 

But, what can you grow here? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot.

First things first. Step back a moment. Check where the shady spot actually is. Is it at ground level, but by the time you get to eye level, it is sunny? For me, it is worth taking note of these little details. In the dark confines of one part of my garden, my clematis montana 'Elizabeth' enjoys a cool, shady environment for her roots, while her mass of flowers bask in the light and warmth found in the hedgerow and tree branches overhead. The bonus for me is that I have a gorgeous, flower filled canopy over an otherwise dark area of the garden, which is lush and green with ferns (love these - check out this slightly obsessive pinterest board dedicated to ferns), hostas and a rambling, Hydrangea petiolaris. I'd really recommend this variety of hydrangea if you have a dark corner you wish to 'dress' with beautiful, delicate white flowers. It puts up with ALOT of shade in my garden. It is a little early for flowers yet, but with plenty of new buds forming, the signs are promising. When my clematis starts to wane, this lovely will start coming alive, again, injecting a little contrast into a predominantly green area. If you do decide to plant one, be warned - mine took a little time to 'get going'. It seems quite slow growing compared to other hydrangeas. But given that it puts up with a lack of light and sun, it is worth cutting it some slack and giving it a go. Shady garden advice

Now, lets head back down to earth. Ground level. What is the soil like? If you are lucky, you'll have a shady area that is also quite damp. This is much easier to deal with than shady and dry. If you live in the UK, 'shady and damp' is a pretty apt description for much of the year, let alone a part of your garden! This actually provides a distinct advantage because we have plenty of native (and non-native) species that just come into their own in these conditions. Look to nature for plenty of advice on how to grow in these kind of conditions. Shady woodlands are a perfect example. At this time of year, bluebells are starting to transform our woods and coppices - creating dense carpets of blue flowers. The National Trust has a directory of where to find and enjoy bluebell woods in and around cities and towns, as well as in the countryside. Have a good sniff and mooch around one of these and you will find plenty of inspiration for a shady garden. 

Now, let's get to the tricky one: shady and dry. Bugger. Hate this combo. A lot of spots under trees have this problem. Particularly around conifers. For me, this is the horticultural equivalent of those old wild west films. Anything goes. You just have to get stuck in, overlook the chaos and make the best of it. To increase the odds of success, as always, Mother knows best. In this instance, Mother Nature. Cyclamen, a nemesis of mine, is perfect here. There is a neglected, rough, dry old bank not far from my house which is full of tree roots and brambles. Cyclamen love it. In my garden? Under my tender, loving care? Not interested at all. But, if you can get these beauties going, you'll have an early shot of colour each year that will grow and spread beautifully. 

Lady's mantle is another fantastic 'spreader' for a dry, dark spot. They are all over it like a cheap suit. Long live cheap suits, that is what I say. I think they are rather pretty myself. Plus, they can put up with quite a bit of abuse. So, if your shady, dry spot is regularly used as a football pitch, cricket ground or, to my recent horror, a racing circuit for a plastic police car and first bike (with devastatingly wide, plant smashing stabilisers, obvs) Lady's mantle will tolerate the odd 'offside' incident with remarkable candour.

Ideas and plants for shady gardensAnother plant that I have had some success with in these conditions is with my old comrade in arms - my camellia. She doesn't give a hoot about 'dry and shady'. Pah! Not a  problem for this tough cookie. The flowers are of course, gorgeous, but I LOVE the dark, lush green foliage. Ensure you pick the right camellia for your soil conditions and situation and you'll have a friend for life. 

Lastly, don't forget the tropics. I LOVE a touch of the exotic in my garden. Many plants from warmer climes are used to surviving under the dry, shady canopy of whopping great big trees and do really well here. Fatsia Japonica is a real favourite, with it's  generous, open hand shaped leaves that just seem to want to grab you and give you a bear hug. Lovely. 


In the mood for colour - Hans Blomquist April 09, 2017 08:47 1 Comment

Home and Garden style guides: three books, three reviewsWe love colour - the energy, interest and creativity it can release. A love for colour is weaved into every garden chair and cushion we create and the premise is simple. We  hope that they provide an accent of colour here, a splash of joyful hues there. So, when 'In the mood for colour' by interior stylist Hans Blomquist was published last year, we were keen to take a closer look. 

When the book arrived, the first thing I noticed was its texture. This isn't just a book about 'how to choose colour' for a particular room or aspect. There is a clever interplay between colour and texture, light, contrast and seasons which literally grabs you from the front cover and continues until the endnotes. On offer is a sophisticated guide to colour. A considered approach, firmly rooted in the author's deep connection to nature. 

This focus on nature is a continual theme throughout the book. It provides the starting point for considering colour and how to introduce it into your home. Colour is divided into tones - dark, pale, natural, soft & bold, gently guiding you as a reader to consider your own reactions to each combination and colour way.  Practical ideas, for example on how to combine colour with natural wood to provide warmth and texture, are shared on every page. 

Photography and styling from the author's own home creates a sense of intimacy between the reader and the writer. The breakfast table is shared. The linen strewn bed in the summerhouse. Hand made wall hangings. This personal aspect of the book is beautifully captured in the photography and the writing, encouraging the reader to see colour from a new perspective. As someone preoccupied by colour, reading this book has provided fresh inspiration and a renewed love for the dynamic nature of colour - ever changing, ever present in our lives. 

The subject of bravery and colour is mentioned twice in the introduction. And for good reason. All too often, people are timid about adding colour to their homes, their gardens, even their clothes. Although I'm confident with colour, I've still been procrastinating about painting our little sitting room a dark shade of blue. This book has put aside those fears, providing a logic and a guide on how to create the effect I want. After years of living with pale walls, at the first opportunity, I'll be grabbing the paintbrush. 

As the title suggests, mood and colour are inextricably linked in this book. Whether you are considering calm and comforting dark tones or wish to embrace joyful, happy bold accents, this book provides an encouraging authoritative guide. In the mood for colour? Always.  


Outdoor space, indoor style: Five style ideas for your patio or garden. April 07, 2017 11:35

Five style ideas for outdoor living

deck chairs - stylish garden furniture from Denys & FieldingWith temperates set to rise this weekend, all eyes are on the garden. Borrow classic interior tricks to ensure you enjoy your time outside, in style. To get you started, here are our five ideas to add a touch of glam, outdoor living to your weekend. Enjoy!

  1. Opt for folding garden furniture: Yes, the weather is looking up. However, you know our fickle climes. One minute sunshine, the next, biblical rain. Invest in garden furniture that is flexible enough to make the most of the changeable weather. Our new design for our garden furniture is proving popular both inside and outdoors. Plus we have a special offer running until the end of April - grab a bargain while you can! 
  2. Create a (garden) room with a view: Arrange planters and pots, brimming with spring bulbs and lush foliage around your seating area. Sitting in and amongst plants is one of the best ways we've found to relax in the garden, literally immersing yourself in the sights and smells. Adding plant pots at different heights, upturning one garden pot to act as a shelf for another, or making the most of a nearby wall or table top can really help add interest and texture at different levels. Plus, pots can be easily moved around - so should the sun be in a different place by June, you can shift your seating and surroundings to suit. shop stylish garden pots and planters at Denys & Fielding
  3. Enjoy a little privacy: Time alone in the garden is to be savoured. If your outdoor space is overlooked or in need of a little more seclusion, consider investing in an outdoor screen. This can be in the shape of planting such as bamboo (prolific so choose your variety carefully) or with the use of a trellis and more traditional, cottage style climbers such as clematis or honeysuckle. If you are short on space, innovate with a fabric screen, such as one of our windbreaks. Good looking, colourful with instant impact, our windbreak poles can be pushed down and secured into pots, creating privacy for a balcony or patio. 
  4. Add some heat: We love the garden by day, but it is still pretty chilly of an evening. Invest in a fire pit or outdoor stove to keep you toasty. We love the fire bowls created by local ironworks Cranbrook Iron. Available in a range of sizes, these beautiful fire bowls look better and better as they age and rust.
  5. Spring clean your space: No matter how small or imperfect, your garden should soothe the soul. It offers a little respite in an otherwise extremely fast paced world. So, get mindful, and enjoy the process of making it your very own sanctuary. Tie in climbers to fences, walls and trellis. Deadhead the daffodils, arrange the furniture and pots to suit your style, then stop. Grab a comfy chair,  magazine, beverage of choice and soak it up. 

Back on the veg beds: plotting and planning for summer April 06, 2017 09:33

Garden Apron - Denys & FieldingGrab those garden gloves! Don your garden apron! It's time to get out and get cracking in the garden. Hooray! This week, I've been giving the veg beds that we built last year a little more attention. 

Last November, I cleared three of my four square veggie beds and added a load of horsey poo in one, leaf mould in another. In the third, I introduced two gooseberry bushes and a blackcurrant, which had been sat in the wrong part of the garden for a quite a while. Fast forward a few months, and it is great to see that they survived the move, and new growth and the first promise of blossom is now appearing. I have planted some flower bulbs in and around the fruit bushes. Couldn't help myself. There is just something really joyful about seeing an abundance of food and flowers growing together. And it really does help to encourage a few more bugs and bees into the garden. A few nasturtium seeds survived the winter and leaves have started to emerge, promising a prolific release of flowers and scent which the bees just love. After a slow, gentle start, the bare outlines of the beds are starting to fill out with new life at quite a pace.

Because I'd gone a little OTT with the horse poo last year, the veg beds really did sink over the winter, as their content rotted down. After a quick weed with the hoe, topping up the beds has been one of the first jobs this week. By the skin of my teeth, I've got some onion sets in, which are now disappearing fast in our local nurseries and garden centres. I've popped in one or two garlic bulbs as well. Both are 'club classics' of our cooking endeavours and really easy to grow, so why not!?

The asparagus was looking extremely ropey but perhaps the sunshine we've enjoyed this week has perked it up. All of a sudden, what looked like dead straw has been taken over by green shoots. Something is occurring under the surface. I'm taking that as a good sign.

For now, that is about it. I'd love to be sowing runner bean seeds and getting some tomatoes underway, but I've learned from bitter experience that frost is still a possibility and losing tender seedlings is gutting. Patience isn't something that comes easy to me, but it is perhaps one of the most important lessons that a garden provides. Another is 'be careful what you wish for'. Rhubarb is running wild along the bottom of the hedge with a jaunty, devil may care, abandon. Seriously. How much rhubarb crumble can one family take?! Luckily, Dad's come up trumps with a rhubarb and ginger wine recipe. Which to me sounds like a spicy, sugary, sherry concoction. Could be dangerous. Only one way to find out...


Stylish shedquarters and cool cabins: garden room inspiration April 02, 2017 18:05

Stylish shed life: shop the look at Denys & FieldingSheds, cabins, summerhouses come into their own at this time of year and I for one, am a big fan. Ideal locations to propagate, paint or just ponder, a garden room can help the time poor and just plain weary to disconnect from one world, and reconnect with another. 

There have been some pretty iconic shed dwellers over the years. Not to mention some serious creative outputs. Think Virginia Woolf's writing shed. Dylan Thomas' boathouse. Barbara Hepworth's summerhouse.

While shed ownership provides no guarantee for creative genius, my personal point of view is that it can't hurt. At the very least, it provides shelter from the elements, a rustic retreat from the world, and a musty, earthy smelling haven where I can lose myself for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon, under the guise of gardening or dreaming up new garden chairs and products for Denys & Fielding. Ha! How little they know. I am far more likely to be enjoying the comforts of my own little balcony deckchair on a Sunday afternoon. It is all part of the product testing. Critical and completely bona fide business activity. 

Talking of sitting down... decoration and styling your shed. How do you do it? Where do you start? Well, for me, this is a space that is entirely my own with little or no rules. It is perfectly acceptable to have a work surface that is held up with string. And, entirely appropriate to stick postcards, post its and ideas up on the wall with the wanton abandon of a teenager armed with blue tack and a copy of Jackie (or was that just me?)

As much as I love 'rustic', for me, there is no need for martyrdom. Lamp lights, a socket for the kettle and the laptop, and of course, a comfy, foldable deckchair and mStylish shed and summerhouses - Shop the look at Denys & Fieldingatching foot stool makes for an easy, working environment. Notebooks are always a must, filled with ideas, drawings, cut out articles and pictures. I go for bold, colourful notebooks as I find it makes it a lot easier to remember the points I've written down in them if they have a distinct, stand out cover. And above all, remember why you have a shed. Alright, not necessarily the practical reasons for having a shed such as space, storage etc... But the life affirming benefits. Fill it with idling distractions - magazines, pots, seeds and books to enjoy the sense of escape that is yours to enjoy, just outside the back door. 


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