3 Ways I’m Going To Be Better In 2018

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Yes, it’s that time of year! We’re on the verge of 2018 and everyone is keen to get their New Year’s resolutions out there.

Well, mine are fairly modest this year.

After a poor start to 2017, suffering from an anxiety disorder which caused me to fall behind on the allotment, I have spent the rest of the time cooking up a recipe (figuratively speaking) which will allow me to keep focussed on the plot next year. Hopefully, you will find this blog post useful too. Especially if, like myself, you struggle to keep yourself motivated in the garden. There are lots of ways in which you can manage a busy life and keep on top of the watering and weeding, and it all starts with your mind and body.

1 – Keeping myself fit

Keeping yourself active is top priority. Last year, I either walked, cycled or ran every day to beat my anxiety and increase my mood. Not only has it helped my mind focus on what is good in life, it’s also improved my memory, given me confidence and the allotment is starting to take shape nicely.

Now, combining this with my allotment makes the whole experience even better. The plot where my allotment is situated is the largest in Bristol and it’s a fantastic track to jog around. Furthermore, I’m out of the smoggy city so I’m breathing clearer air, I can practise mindfulness with the  birdsong and when I’m done, I take a big swig out of my flask and get to work on the plot.

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2 – Organising my time better

Whether it’s my mild dyspraxia or my regular day-dreaming, I can often be a little disorganised.

This extends to the allotment. Even as I write this, there are still a handful of jobs that I keep putting off. In fact, I will often look at other pictures of gardens and feel a little out of my depth – sometimes deciding to give up for the day.

What keeps me coming back however, is my dream of being self-sufficient. I remind myself that I’m lucky to have an allotment as big as the one I have. A plot that is filled with fantastic perennials and has the potential to supply me with food throughout the year. And the only way that I’m going to get to this point is by organising my time better.

This starts with keeping diaries, calendars, notes and spreadsheets with all of the planned projects and timeframes. It then moves into more regular jobs like weeding and grass-cutting. Here, my phone comes in really handy. I can set times for both jobs months in advance if I want to, and slowly but surely, I work my way into a solid rhythm. I then notice how much better my plot looks and how easy it is to do, and I keep up the pace.

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3 – Only eating homegrown or organic

Sure, I grow my own food. But I’m still a sucker for convenience shops too.

This year, the harvests have been patchy. Most days I’ve found myself picking up a tin of beans or a bag of vegetables to bulk out my supplies.

Instead, what I should be doing is going on a slightly longer walk to my local greengrocers. There are hundreds of organic, local and independent shops in cities and towns – and they’re actually pretty affordable too. I did an entire week’s shop of vegetables in my local recently for under £10 – and if you’re making an effort to keep fit and be healthy, shopping fresh and organic is a logical decision to make.

Of course, if you’re having to manage a family your options can be more limited. One thing that I will suggest, though, is that you write out a meal plan, buy and cook the vegetables that you need and then store them to whip out whenever you need to throughout the week. By doing this and shopping organically, you can do your little bit for the environment, whilst arguably saving money where you’re not impulse buying.

So there you have it. Three ways that I’m going to be better in 2018. Perfectly achieveable and affordable too. What resolutions have you made for 2018? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy New Year wherever you’re reading this and keep up to date with all of the latest by following me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter!

 

12 Meals of Christmas – Day 2 – Leek and Kale Curry

Christmas and curry: two of our greatest inventions. So, it only makes sense to combine them. In fact, curry – with it’s colour, spicy flavours, warmth and wholesome goodness – could fit into the Christmas menu very well if you can part with your turkey. This applies to those vegetarians out there who might be stuck between two big meat-eaters (I feel for you).

To celebrate Christmas, I’ve launched a brand new blog series covering the twelve days of Christmas with the 12 Meals of Christmas. Each day you’ll be getting an exciting christmassy recipe to help you save money and your belly for the big day.

See the first festive recipe here.

Using two hardy wintry vegetables, kale and leeks, in this curry makes it the ideal comfort food – with the best bit being that you won’t pile on the pounds after two helpings (a very likely outcome once you get a taste of the first mouthful).

And below, you can follow my winter-warming recipe and make your very own fantastic leek and kale curry:

Leek and Kale Curry (Serves 3) Vg

One leek, chopped

Two handfuls of kale

One chilli, chopped and de-seeded

A teaspoon of cumin seeds

A teaspoon of paprika

A teaspoon of turmeric

A teaspoon of garam masala

25ml of soya or dairy yoghurt

Seasoning

 

You want to start by grabbing a saucepan and heating a dash of oil over a medium flame. Pop in your slices of leek and fry these for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. As the leek fries, slide in the cumin seeds, seasoning and turmeric. Follow this with a crushed clove of garlic, chopped chilli pepper, the paprika and the garam masala. Fry the dry ingredients until the leeks begin to brown, making sure that you continue to stir as you go, adding a little water as you go.

When the leeks are beginning to brown, pop in your kale leaves. Drop in a little extra water, turning the hob down to a low heat and placing a lid over the saucepan. Leave the kale for around 5 minutes to wilt.

In the meantime, set up your rice to boil. Using your hand to measure out a portion, drop into another saucepan as much rice as you might need – Pour over boiling water and turn the hob onto a high heat for around 5 minutes, or until the water is steaming. Once the water is bubbling, remove the rice from the heat and place a lid over the top, leaving the grains to soften up for around 10 minutes.

Remove the lid from your curry saucepan and taking your 25ml of yoghurt, pour this into the other ingredients. Follow this up with the additional garlic, give everything a good stir and place to one side until the rice is cooked through.

Once the rice has softened, drain and serve. Be generous with your curry as it really is something!

Stay tuned tomorrow for more from the 12 Meals of Christmas. If you enjoyed this recipe, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a comment below!

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram to stay up to date with all of the meals featured.

 

Macaroni Cheese with Butternut Squash Makes Squasharoni Cheese

Squasharoni Cheese. There it is, I’m coining it.

What more could you want from the winter than a dish of pure stodge? With the addition of butternut squash, onion, a nice bit of garlic and some herbs, you have a much healthier version of the popular classic though. And wait until you see just how orange and vibrant the squasharoni looks when it comes out of the oven!

I enjoyed this squasharoni cheese for dinner and for my work lunch the day after, saving me all that money on meal deals and expensive subs. Follow the recipe below to make your very own meal of cheesy indulgence:

Squasharoni Cheese (Serves 4)

Half a butternut squash

A couple of cupfuls of Macaroni

One onion, chopped

Five mushrooms, finely chopped

50ml of milk (soya or cow)

Bunch of fresh basil, chopped

Two cloves of garlic, crushed

Seasoning

Begin by turning your oven onto gas mark 6/ 200C. Taking the squash half, carefully remove the skin and de-seed. Chop into thin chunks and place these into the top of a steamer, or into a pan with boiling water. Into the bottom part of the steamer or into a separate pan, pour in your couple of handfuls of macaroni. Cover the pasta with water, place a lid over the top and turn the hob onto a medium heat. Leave the pasta and squash to simmer for around 10 minutes or until the pasta is cooked through and the squash is soft.

Into a large mixing bowl, drop in your cooked squash. Taking a blender, blitz the squash until smooth. Next up, add the sliced onion and mushroom, along with the basil, garlic and seasoning too. Stir in the 50g of milk then grating the cheese into the bowl. Finish by adding the macaroni pasta, and combining everything thoroughly.

Pour everything into an ovenproof dish, grating a little extra cheese over the top so that it’ll brown up nicely. Place into the oven to bake for 35 minutes or until golden on the top. Once this is done, serve up and tuck in.

I’ll be running the 12 Meals of Christmas to help you keep save money and that belly for Christmas. Make sure you follow me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to keep up to date!

 

Apple and Hazelnut Pastries

Thanks to everyone who voted over on Instagram! Here is the apple and hazelnut pastry as requested. I want to hear your thoughts – drop them in the comments below. Happy baking.

The best recipes are often accidents. In fact, over 50% of the food that I cook is improvised and, as such, doesn’t always turn out the way I wanted. Yet, in the case of these tarts, this was happy accident indeed.

Taking my spare puff pastry sheet I had in the fridge, I decided to slice up homegrown apples and arrange them on top. And what a result! These pastries are best enjoyed as a light snack, or why not eat them fresh and cover them in custard?

Apple and Hazelnut Tarts (Serves 12)

A sheet of ready-made puff pastry

Two tablespoons of caster sugar

Two apples, cored and peeled

A couple of handfuls of chopped hazelnuts

Cinnamon

An egg, beaten

Honey

Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 6/200C. Next, grease a muffin tray ready for your tarts.

You want to slice your apples thinly lengthways to begin with. Set these aside and grab your ready-made pastry sheet. Before you begin cutting, take your two tablespoons of caster sugar and sprinkle them over the top of the pastry. Lightly, taking both palms, press the sugar into the top of the pastry. Using the bottom of a glass, cut out several circles and placing these into your tray, gently press them into each case.

You’ll find that you’ll have a little bit of pastry left over. Use this to line the tops of each case. Finish the pastry by glazing it with a brush and the egg yolk. Make sure that the whole tart is covered as this is what will give it that golden look later on!

Next, arrange your apple slices over the top of each tart. Scatter cinnamon, the chopped hazelnuts and the honey over the tarts before placing them into the oven for around 20-30 minutes or until golden.

Once the pastry has puffed up and the tarts look golden on the top, remove them from the oven. You can either serve them up immediately as a delicious dessert with fresh icecream or custard, or place them into an airtight container and store for up to 3 days.

 

Stay tuned for more chances to vote on the next recipes by following me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I hope you enjoy these tarts as much as I do!

 

Here’s a Way to Help You Keep the Weeds Down

I would be lying if I said that I was an organised gardener. My allotment certainly takes on the “wild” look and this also extends to the piles of pots and lost tools that I spend endless amounts of time trying to find. As an unorganised gardener, I also have a big problem with weeds and slugs and, if you’re reading this, I imagine you must do too.

I would love to have days and days to spend neatening up my allotment plot, but the reality is that other things like work come in the way. If you’re young or you’re new to growing your own food, seeing an entire plot of land consumed with weeds is not motivating – particularly if you only have a couple of hours a week to spare gardening.

So how do you deal with weeds and more with so little free time?

I’ve been asking myself this question for months. If you don’t get rid of the weeds, your delicious crops lose all of their energy, the slugs have a place under the weedy growth to thrive and decimate plants and, if they even survive all of that, growing so close to these dominating neighbours will result in harvests that are tiny and sad.

But now I have a plan, and you should try it too

By taking out my phone and timing myself on one patch, I discovered that it only took 10 minutes to do what was a couple of square metres of earth. My allotment is big, but by multiplying this time by the ten or so plots I’ve created on the allotment, I worked out that I could get the entire stretch done in well under 2 hours. And this is clearing weeds that have been allowed to establish for months!

Granted, much of the weedy growth on my plot has been killed back by placing cardboard, newspaper, manure and veg waste thickly over the greenery in the past three years. However, even a tougher job, when broken down into a specific time, looks much more achievable.

Now, moving forward, I can plan to do anywhere between ten and twenty minutes of de-weeding a week. Furthermore, I can be sure that next year’s crops will grow and flourish the way that they are supposed to, without bindweed clambering, grass sprouting and brambles clinging.

This isn’t a ground-breaking new technique to get the whole plot done in less than a second (although please let me know if you do manage to do this). Yet, like almost everything about gardening and growing your own food, it’s all about changing your mentality and making life easier.

If you’re working on a new garden or allotment this year, or you’re struggling to keep on top of things – remember – it’s far better to break large jobs into smaller chunks than attempt to do it all at once.

Do you have any tricks for managing weeds and juggling a busy life? Let me know in the comments below!

Healthy Breakfast Apple Muffins

 

How many of us, rushing to get to work, forget to eat our most important meal of the day? Porridge is a faff, cereal and milk isn’t portable enough to eat on the way to work and expensive smoothies are completely out of the question. Well, like all things in life, plan ahead and you can both perform at your best and not be eyeing up a horse by the time your lunch break arrives. Even better still, this recipe takes only an hour out of your week and you can enjoy the rewards throughout.

Healthy Apple Muffins

 

Ingredients

150g of whole-wheat flour

50g of oats

½ teaspoon of baking powder

½ teaspoon of salt

½ teaspoon of cinnamon

½ teaspoon of vanilla

1 egg

75g of butter

75g of honey

2 apples grated

1 apple sliced with skins kept on

 

 

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The Cooking…

Turn the oven onto Gas Mark 5/ 180C.

Grab a cake tray and place your muffin cases into the slots.

Measure out your whole-wheat flour, baking powder, oats, cinnamon and salt and add these to a large mixing bowl. Next, cube your butter and drop this into the bowl. Using only your fingers, gently combine the butter into the flour. Once the mixture begins to resemble breadcrumbs, make a well in the centre of the mixture and add your egg. Taking your spoon, fold the dry mixture into the egg, following the figure of eight to ensure that air gets into the batter.

Next, add your grated apple, honey, vanilla essence as well as the chopped pieces of apple. Stir these into the batter carefully again, making sure that you don’t rush the mixing. When this is done, transfer your batter into the cases and slot the cakes into the oven for around 35-40 minutes, or until the tops are golden and the knife comes out clean. As the muffins cool, add a little drizzle of honey over the tops to give your cakes even more flair.

Pack into an air-tight container and the muffins should keep for a week. Enjoy as a healthy alternative ready to get you on your way in the morning.

 

How to Start Growing Your Own Food

Last week I talked about the ideas surrounding growing your own food and attempted to throw out some of stereotypes we often have with gardening. The image of a retired person tending to their flowers is hard to shake, but growing plants for food is a highly practical and sensible thing to do and it doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, busy or not, there are so many ways that you can grow your own food.

So, you have your terrace or balcony ready or you’ve bought a spade ready for turning your garden into a productive space – what next?

Before you start carving up large areas of your garden, building beds or buying pots – grab a cup of something hot, settle down and spend a few minutes writing down what you want to grow/achieve with your new growing space. It’s so tempting to jump into the thick of it, but spending a little time drawing up these ideas will aid you a great deal later on and organisation, as we all know, is essential if you don’t have a lot of time spare.

Things to consider when you’re drawing up your plans:

What Do I Enjoy Eating?

Sounds obvious, but myself and my fellow garden bloggers have grown a variety of veg that we don’t like eating. Vegetables such as radish and Brussels Sprouts might fill traditional vegetable patches, but that doesn’t mean that they have to fill your space. If you want to turn your garden into a pumpkin farm, go for it. If you want to grow several types of tomatoes, you don’t have to diversify. By choosing a couple of vegetables that you enjoy for next year or by choosing some fast-growing salads that you really want in your meals to grow this year, you’ll find it easier to keep motivated.

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Do I Want To Be Self-Sufficient?

Traditional food growers can be split into two categories; there are those who grow a couple of squash plants for the fun of it and there are those who turn every inch of their garden into a foodie feast. One of the main reasons I got into growing my own food in the first place was because I couldn’t stand rising food prices and poorer quality any longer. This spurred me onto my journey, starting with tomatoes and taking me right up to pumpkins and other delicious crops.

Being self-sufficient – growing food for your table all year-round and not having to rely on supermarkets – is very hard. However, don’t let that put you off. Whilst I’m not self-sufficient yet, I have a couple of months where I can rely on my own fruit, a couple of months of pumpkins for soups and throughout the winter, I harvest tasty salads to cut out the regular food shops. I find it better to see the idea of “living off of the land” as a goal and not necessarily as an end destination. The point is that by adding more and more of your own harvests to your plate, you’ll be helping the planet and your wallet out too.

If you’re going to grow a variety of different vegetables, check out their planting and harvesting times. Organise it so that your pumpkin, with its longer season is allocated that space, but that it is intercropped with lettuce and radish which only take a couple of months to mature, if that. The other fantastic way that you can get the most out of your vegetable patch is by using the growing habits of plants to their advantage.

By taking a pumpkin, with its low-growing habit, and marrying it up with tall vine beans, you can get twice as much food out of one space. We’ll be looking at this in more detail later on. Yet, good pairings to consider are: pumpkins and beans, peas and lettuce, fruit trees and strawberries, leafy greens and tomatoes. The list goes on and you can find more information on intercropping here.

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Should I Add Fruit Into the Mix?

It might seem like a huge effort to grow your own food. Yet, the only thing that you need is patience. Fruit trees are brilliant when they really start to produce fruit. However, this can take them a couple of years or potentially more depending on the fruit. By planting your fruit trees in pots, though, you can create portable plants that can travel with you should you move home. Putting your trees and other vegetables into pots makes everything so much easier later.

I often leave my fruit trees alone now, and they thrive. Aside from the odd prune and feed, these plants are better built than shorter-rooted vegetables and there are a lot of advantages to this.

How Can I Make Things Simple and Easy?

Raised beds bring the height of your plants up, making it easy to de-weed. Potted plants are great for gardens where you need to move things around a lot. And, by sinking plastic bottles cut in half or old plant pots into the soil around your plants, you can save on watering. Slugs and snails find it harder to eat plants grown in raised beds, yet coffee grounds around the bases of your plants and beer traps (make by pouring beer into plastic containers and sinking them into the ground at the lip) will ward off most of these slimy fiends.

Now that you’ve made a note of the things that you want to achieve and how you’ll achieve them, you can start building your productive patch. Late summer is the perfect time to get things together for the next year, so knock together wooden pallets for raised beds, invest in some hangers to grow small veg and strawberries vertically or go for the old-fashioned route and begin breaking up the top layer of soil and mark out your new plots.

Next week, we’ll be looking at easy time-light ways to get rid of weedy ground, buying the right sized pots and talk about that all-important step of getting the soil right.

 

Don’t Let the Weeds Bring You Down

Chances are that if you’re reading this you’re either a very neat and tidy grower or you’re a messy one like me. Yes, contrary to the professional (cough, cough) pictures, my allotment is more on the wild side than it is the Gardener’s World side. The site is big; I’ve inherited a whole batch of great plants – yet I’ve also inherited a very well-established hoard of bindweed, which is nigh-impossible to get rid of.

On a typical trip up to the allotment in mid-summer, I can often come away feeling disheartened. Even if I get on with a good bit of de-weeding, the grass stands wild and tall and the pesky weeds dominate the plots once more. In the end, I’ve come to the realisation that I should simply embrace it.

Young Growers – Don’t Give Up Over Weeds

I’m appealing particularly to my generation of young gardeners here, as it’s with first-time gardeners and growers that weeds win.

Across my youthful allotment site, I often compare younger gardener’s plots to older people’s. What I find is that, where there had been good intentions – growing a range of tasty, organic fruit and veg – what instead happens is the manured beds and cleared edges become perfect breeding sites for thick weedy growth.

Many of these people give up their plots after a short while and abandon the idea of growing their own food completely.

As a passionate advocate for growing your own food, and as someone who has his fair share of weedy worries, this makes me very sad. So, I want to tell you something:

Weeds Will Always Grow Because Nature Has More Time on Its Hands

You can’t stop weeds entirely, so move that thought aside. When you see pristine allotment plots, notice the little tuft of grass near the bed’s corner or the creeping vine – no one is perfect and no allotment is either. This doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything to improve conditions, though.

By mulching your growing beds heavily in the late autumn with leaf mold, horse or cow manure and things like newspaper or cardboard, you can kill off a lot of weeds by starving them of light. Then, when the few sprouts begin to surface, book yourself in for a weekly de-weeding session that only needs to last 10 minutes. Do a quick scan of your beds and pull a handful out here and there. By keeping this consistent (use a phone calendar if you need to) you’ll have more time to focus on your veggies.

By raising the soil up, you can also stop the weeds from spreading. The trick is to smother and starve any unwanted plants underneath. Then, once your growing beds are ready you won’t have to worry about weeds. So long as the weeds aren’t growing or creeping over any growing vegetables, just keep them a little managed.

It’s also healthy to let the grass grow. Remember that lots of wildlife relies on tall grass for coverage, pollination and much more. So you only need to give that a cut once it reaches your anywhere before your knee. If the grass is going to seed, it’ll likely spread across your beds. Don’t worry though – as long as you keep up a little bit of weeding each week and learn to embrace the messiness of nature, you’ll do just fine.

Whatever you decide to do – remember this: if the weeds are too high, don’t give up. It’s nature’s job to grow – and you just have to work with that. What’s more important is that you get something out of your garden or allotment. You know, there are even professional gardeners and veg growers out there who use weeds and permaculture to make their crops better.

 

Small Space Garden Episode 3 | Peashoots and Peas

The Small Space Garden series continues.

June is the perfect month to roll up your sleeves, pick up a trowel and start growing some quick and easy crops.

Peas are great speedy vegetables. Home-grown, their flavour is phenominally better than those cheap ones in cans, and if you’re clever you could even save a bit of money too.

In just under a week and a half, with a bit of heat, you’ll have pea seedlings poking through the soil. Very soon after potting the peas up or planting them outside, you’ll be inundated with flowers and delicious pods, ripe for picking.

Trust me, they won’t make it back to the dinner plate.

Last year, I grew just one large container’s worth of peas. There were about ten plants in total. From those ten plants, I received a constant supply of pea pods that saw me through the best part of three weeks. This just goes to show how productive peas can be, even in the smallest of spaces.

No room for a big container? Grow your peas in a small pot and harvest the growing tips instead. Use these on your salads and you can gloat about how healthy you’ve become.

Check out my video below for more information on growing peas:

Somerset Garden Day

The days are warmer, the sun is out for longer and there is plenty of fun to be had in the garden. Today is Somerset Garden Day, the first garden celebration day of its kind in the UK. Whether you’re the proud owner of a window box, a terrace or a full-blown garden, today is the day for putting your feet up and enjoying the space that you own. In celebration of the day itself, myself and fellow blogger and Incredible Edible Bristol community gardener, Man vs Allotment took time out of our busy schedules to throw a little party.

I’m ashamed to say that I don’t have many visitors to my plot. Although the plot itself is huge, it’s been under development for quite some time. However, with Somerset Garden Day dawning, it provided me with the perfect excuse to get some of my allotment neighbours and housemates over to the plot for some relaxing and unwinding.

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By allowing yourself the time to unwind in these places of nature, or by sitting in your terrace garden with friends, you really do feel the stresses of the week fall away. It’s been proven that spending time around plants and trees and nurturing your own garden helps with anxiety and depression, and as someone who suffers from the former, I can confirm that it really does work.

Not only did we take some time out to immerse ourselves in the allotment, I also learnt more about my allotment neighbours. Ross (Man vs Allotment) is famous on the site for featuring with his innovative pub-shed idea in Big Dreams, Small Spaces presented by Monty Don. Naturally, I had to see it and we wandered up to enjoy a beer and talk about a range of different plans and ideas. Through inviting people into your garden or allotment, you can exchange great new ideas and inspiration, and I came away exactly having achieved it.

What was also brilliant to see was the diversity between the five of us. My two housemates own a colourful terrace garden right in the noisy centre of Bristol. Yet, they surround the space with lots of different plants to create a tranquil space. Tim, one of my allotment neighbours who writes for a local community newspaper has just taken on his second half-plot on the site and we exchanged lots of ideas about gardening and garden writing. Ross, again, has some great ideas for using his space, growing hops over his pub-shed so that he can start making his own brew, as well as lots of other little quirks on his plot. Together, we were all a hive of different ideas and the whole day was a refreshing change from the norm.

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Across the county, let’s escape the stresses of the week and immerse ourselves in our slices of paradise. If you haven’t got enough plants, why not pick some fresh new colour, edibles and more from a local garden centre today?

Don’t forget to follow Somerset Garden Day on Twitter and on Instagram and tweet/take lot of photos of your garden spaces!