Bed and Breakfast & Holiday Cottage

Bed and Breakfast & Holiday Cottage

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

A Guest Blog – featuring Me as The Guest

This was a Guest Blog I wrote for Tree to My Door where you will find the loveliest of Christmas presents!

‘How to Make A Cottage Garden’

First buy your cottage in the country, then plant lots of roses, lavender, foxgloves, aquilegia, hollyhocks, pinks and delphiniums and Hey Presto, Bob’s Your Uncle, Simples – you’ve got your cottage garden!

Well OK maybe it takes a bit more than that. For a start on slug infested wet clay soil delphiniums are going to struggle and that’s why we don’t have them. Hollyhocks like it dry too, so it’s taken a long time to encourage them, foxgloves that grow all over the old vegetable garden refuse to do the same in the cottage garden, and no matter how many pretty different aquilegia we buy, the same old blue and pink ones dominate. I have no idea why the pinks are unhappy.

But roses, we can do roses, they love our clay and we’ve chosen varieties such as Felicia Buff Beauty, Ellen Poulsen and The Fairy which go on and on and on and on all through the summer into the autumn. And if there is one flower everyone thinks of when they think ‘cottage garden’ it’s the rose.

So, with a good selection of roses happily flourishing, we have had to find other plants that while perhaps not immediately obvious as cottage garden plants are giving a very convincing performance as cottagey. Shrub potentillas, for example, like the roses flower all through the season. Being shrubs they stand up properly and are useful for propping up their floppy cousins the perennial potentillas and the equally lax but deeply gorgeous geums.

Santolinas and box balls give a little structure and act as good supporting acts for the flimsier plants either side and behind them. The santolinas can be cut into smart balls if you sacrifice the flowers, (which we actually don’t as it just seems mean).

Mingling a few herbs amongst the flowers also works well. We have lovely grey leaved sages and a lot of marjoram which, though quite good at collapsing, flowers late and insects love it. Sadly we are too cold and wet for rosemary and have killed off I think at least a dozen before finally accepting the fact.

Lavender struggles here too but I cannot have a garden without lavender so I now have it in pots down the front path which keep it drier in the winter and will also be rescue-able if the weather drops down to -18 as it did last winter.

The main thing I think is to get as much in there as you can, repeat the plants often, get some spring bulbs in early for spring colour and also for later on - a favourite of mine is the drumstick allium which flowers mid to late season and whose seedheads look presentable for a long time after too They do have a habit of ducking around a shrub rather than growing through it which is what I would prefer them to do, but nature will have her way. And she’s generous with it too providing desirable ‘weeds’ like poppies, campion and cowparsley – all of which are welcome in our garden.

A cottage garden should be billowing, frothy, lively. Have a little patience – fill in the time and gaps with annuals if you’re any good at them (I’m not) and deadhead like mad. Pinks, blues and mauves are my favourite colours in this garden, although the rose Evelyn May is bright orange and is one of the best performers we have. Make some rules, then break them! Have fun!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

My Cheerful Little Town In The Orchards

I thought, dear reader, that you might like a little look around my local market town, Tenbury Wells. It’s where I get all the food for the B&B and the Hen House and is the friendliest local town I’ve ever lived near.  Some days it's a bucolic reminder of times past with many of us tromping around in our wellies and tractors pulling trailer loads of potatoes or apples or hops, and other days it is a bustling modern country town serving its widespread community with things as exotic as sunblushed tomatoes, polenta and the interweb.

So approaching from the Berrington end of town my first stop would be the fabulous and ever busy Farm Barn Shop where I buy local tomatoes and mushrooms, free range eggs if my hens are being slack and butter.


Right next door is the lovely little fish shop which is a rare thing in many a town so we are very lucky indeed.


And opposite is Caldicotts builders merchants and funeral directors, a family firm who have seriously got it sussed because everyone needs somewhere to live before they die.


Further along is the lovely Spotty Dog CafĂ© & Gallery which has local art, crafts and jewellery and serves a very nice latte too – and lovely cakes.


You can also get jolly nice cakes from Swifts the bakers on the corner and opposite them is Country Flowers where I buy flowers when I can’t bear to cut my own.


Heading up Teme Street towards the river there is a dress shop, a jeweller, an optician, an electrical goods shop, a book shop (for which I have 10% off vouchers if you come and stay!)


And then after the library, The Food Hall which supplies all my free range meat (well all your free range meat if you stay cos I don’t eat it but am happy to support ethical producers and cook it for you).


Then there’s the proper little sweet shop and the newsagent and a shoe shop and the dentist (opposite the doctors) and then the fabulous Banfields where you can buy anything from fork handles to four candles and where they have lovely old drawers behind the counters.


Then you get to the girly end of town where you will find Soap Opera my hairdressers and Pure Beauty Salon where all my beauty secrets are kept! (Actually that might not be a very good advertisement for Jules the owner – but she is really very good, she can’t help what she’s given to work with.)


And up this end there are the banks too and the Spar, which of course we couldn’t live without because they never seem to shut and any B&B landlady will tell you how essential that can be at times…..


Pop over the bridge and you’re in Shropshire, drive along to the left a bit and you’re in Herefordshire, but this is Tenbury Wells in Worcestershire. It’s not fancy, but I love it and I can absolutely guarantee you will receive a very friendly welcome when you come to visit.

And I haven’t even mentioned the pubs yet…….

Thursday, 28 July 2011


Forgive me readers, it has been several weeks since my last blog. A little round up of life here in the summer might be in order….

In between hosting lots of lovely guests (I truly think there must be some divine intervention on the interweb thingy that sends me only nice people to stay) there actually isn’t that much spare time when you run a B&B. Happily I have my garden on the doorstep (obv) so as soon as I’ve finished breakfasts and cleaning and tidying I can get straight out there and play with the flowers. But we actually shut the B&B for a couple of days before our charity garden opening so that I could devote all my time to trimming the grass edges with nail scissors and other such important tasks. (Meanwhile Willy managed to break the big lawnmower and had to do it all with the little one which was only what he deserved really.). It took three versions of the “Please Don’t Feed The Donkeys” sign before we managed to place it somewhere the donkeys wouldn’t eat it.


So the day came, the signs went up, friends and family came to help (and supplied enough cake to feed the whole of Worcestershire) and the gates were opened. And the people actually came! And they seemed to like it! Embarrassingly, some wanted to know the names of roses that I had long forgotten so I felt a complete fraud. But they enjoyed smelling them so that’s the main thing (I think someone from Stratford might have put that better once upon a time)

We had chosen to open on a Friday for our first time to see how it went. We had heard from others that we might expect 200 people – and we had the cake to prove it – but we had 80. Eighty is good, we raised £400 for charity, but it’s not as good as 200 so I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. Next year we will open on a Sunday and expect a stampede.


After the open day we felt we could legitimately venture out of the property when we had a moment and one lovely Sunday we found ourselves looking around the village gardens of Whitton. The tickets were being sold from the church and it was this that turned out to be the real find because not only is the graveyard covered in wild flowers but there is a William Morris stained glass window in the small old timber raftered church. When I popped back up there recently they were clearing some of the wild grass and flowers to make way for a small tent for the annual blessing of the medieval preaching stone which was to be followed by the christening of a local farmer’s baby – a small community church doing the same thing it’s been doing for hundreds of years. I’m not at all churchy but it is now one of my favourite places in the area.




And then for something completely different….The Richards Castle Soap Box Derby. Set high up in the hills, an amazing venue for a mad event where gravity fuelled carts race down the hill against the clock. Some built for speed, some built for fun. Locals and visitors picnicked on the hill, the Tenbury Brass Band played and some classic and kit cars showed off their polish too. A little eccentricity in the beautiful English countryside – a perfect Sunday.




Saturday, 4 June 2011

A welcome to England

As you may have heard me mention (!) we are opening our garden for the National Gardens Scheme to help raise money for charity on 24th June. I am not going to talk about our garden here because I am reaching combustible levels of stress thinking about it and to write more will only wind me up further.
But what a fantastic thing this garden opening scheme is. How many countries can you visit where you can, on any day during the summer turn up at someone's private house, wander around their garden, drink their tea, eat their cake and chat to the owners all for about five quid? In some cases you can even stay in their bedrooms! (Book now to avoid disappointment 01584 819868)

If I was a foreigner wanting to visit Britain and get a real feel of life both in the country and in the cities, the Yellow Book would definitely be my travel guide. It's like every year the whole of Britain puts on a Grand Garden Festival - a countrywide flower show of big and small gardens, allotments and whole villages opening together - all with just normal everyday folk there to welcome you in with a smile - whatever the weather - and a quintessentially English afternoon tea. (The quintessential bit being the rain)
Last weekend I visited Glanarrow at Eardisland in Herefordshire.I could just imagine the gasps of tourists as they wandered up the path to find a gorgeous house with it’s lake complete with little boat and a newly planted avenue of trees leading from the lake to the fields beyond

I really liked the combination of the silver foliage of the weeping pear with the santolinas in the white garden.


The best bit of all is this wonderful herringbone haha which I had never seen before … beautifully made with elegant steps leading to the top lawn (Blogger has decided to place this pic at the top)

Behind the perfectly planted herbaceous border with its hedge backdrop is the neatest potager I’ve ever seen…


But what I loved most was where part of the house became more cottagey and so did the planting. This was where I had my tea and a slice of Victoria sponge….


… a table outside the kitchen door looking towards the potager


An interesting contrast was this bench looking very rustic and pretty with the daisies coming through it backing onto a planted streambed leading to the lake,


….but facing a large expanse of plain lawn with a smart Lutyens bench in the distance. A deliberate contrast or the setting of some new project?


Glanarrow is open again on 18th and 19th June in aid of the local church funds.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Areas of Concern

It is just under two months until our Garden Opening and I feel like I'm flying. Not in the sense of gliding or soaring as happily and nonchalently as the buzzards mewing overhead, but more in the sense that I think we'll probably be all right but there is a chance we might crash and burn.

With the warm weather everything is threatening to peak too soon. Usually our roses would be looking good at the end of June - the NGS day is the 24th - but if this weather keeps up it will all be over with only us and a handful of guests having seen them. But hey, the people who visit gardens are usually gardeners themselves and they will understand won't they? Won't they? Or will there be frowns of disapproval and mutterings of "Hmmm how disappointing" ?? If only we didn't have to be so visible. (We have to wear badges stating 'Garden Owner' - it will feel like a badge saying 'It's all my fault' or 'Direct your criticism at me' It would be so much easier to bear if we could just blend in with the visitors and tut and pass comments such as "I don't know why they've planted that there" (And indeed we probably don't)

There are three particular, or four particular, no maybe five or six particular areas that are causing me concern.....First why, in seven years have we still not managed to camouflage the sewage tank at the end of the Not the Daffodil Bed. Second, why does Not the Herb Garden still not look quite right? Third, will anyone actually find the Not the Sweet Pea garden so does it matter that it is empty? Fourth, when will we come up with some decent new names for these areas. Five, will the wildflower area under the apple trees actually ever germinate this year or will it remain bare for both the June and the September opening. And six, will the Buggery have anywhere near enough in it to attract more than a couple of lone bees?

And I haven't even mentioned filling the gaps left by things that have died over the winter. There is an area where a big old buddleia, that used to cover up an awkward slopey corner, has just died. We decided to tackle it at the weekend. What shall we do we wondered while sipping our coffee staring unenthusiastically at it. "Why don't we get some of those big stones and pile them up and plant some aubretia in them and plant a philadelphus over the top?" "Good idea - let's get to it." Half an hour later - hey presto - it looked...well someone had piled up some stones and planted some aubretia.

When things aren't going too well in the garden I am glad I can at least take pride in my B&B business and one of the very nicest things about it is having people say how much they love it here - inside and out. And so I guess it can't be all bad out there. In fact I know it is not. There are some lovely bits and on the 24th June I shall stand by the lovely bits wearing my 'Garden Owner' badge with pride and cheerfully agree that some other bits are actually really awful and need to be better next year.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Country Sports

It's spring again and the wildlife and I can relax for a while and live in peace. No more hunting til autumn means no more worrying about whether my animals will be scared or hurt and no need to will the foxes to come and hide here.

I have spent all my life sitting on the country sports fence. Having been involved with horses as a child and teenager, I managed to avoid going hunting myself though my pony was taken by a friend a couple of times. I've always been an animal lover and couldn't see the fun in it but I've always been surrounded by people who do. And as a fickle youngster I managed to think nothing of going to hunt balls, (probably because the most handsome boys were to be found there - the rich have an annoying habit of being beautiful).

I once went fishing with a boyfriend - a beautiful spot and almost a nice way to spend a day. The moment when I first felt a tug on the line was quite exciting even for a split second, but then I immediately felt awful about yanking the poor thing out of its watery world, a barbed hook in the roof of its mouth. Ouch.

For several years I worked as a PA to the owner of a large country estate where one of my duties was to help organise shooting parties. I don't like the idea of shooting wild birds for fun but it's another one of those traditional country sports that amuses the county set over the winter. They're a funny lot... I should know, I married one of them.

Thankfully William had long given up shooting when I met him and had also decided a long time ago he was never getting on a horse again. He's also a zooologist by training so whilst he doesn't love animals like I do, he has some sort of interest in them. He stopped shooting when he was a student realising the idiocy of shooting wild ducks one weekend and counting them for a survey the next.

And so we sit here in our nice little place, both country people but with different backgrounds and experiences and we're surrounded by other country people with their own views and desires. Whatever happens nearby Brook Farm is, I hope, a haven for wildlife and therefore a quiet, peaceful place to stay. We like it like that and our guests like it like that.

'Harm None' is my motto - 'Live and Let Live' is William's!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

It's Not That Easy Being Green

Today I forgot the mushrooms. I haven't any B&B guests this week so I only needed a few to put in the Hen House breakfast hamper with the sausages, bacon and tomatoes. Should I drive the two miles back down to Tenbury for a few mushrooms or give my guests some lovely organic local yogurt instead. The yogurt it is.

I have dilemmas like this every week. Ideally I am buying local, organic and fair trade and also keeping an eye on how much I use my car. But local doesn't always have organic and fairtrade. So do I shun the small local shops and use more fuel to get to specialist shops or supermarkets further away or do I buy the best I can get locally?

I used to buy my bacon direct from a local farmer but felt bad because I'd taken my business away from the local butcher, so I switched back and now I feel bad about the farmer. The local butcher sometimes has organic chicken, but rarely anything else organic, but he does have local free range meats. Do my guests expect me to buy organic bacon from further away or buy the local free range stuff?

If I go to the Spar in Tenbury for some tonic water and I also need tomatoes for breakfasts, do I ignore their dutch tomatoes in the hope that the greengrocer has some english ones? He's at the other end of town and might only have dutch ones too. It's easy in summer because there is a local farm that supplies the greengrocer with the loveliest juiciest tomatoes which I buy by the box and keep out of the fridge where they ripen to their most gorgeous tasty best. But they're not labelled organic. Should I visit the farm and check what they are putting on them?

In an ideal world I would grow my own, but my success rate with tomatoes isn't impressive - if they manage to get off the ground without slug damage, they ripen so slowly that only one or two guests would get them on their breakfast during the summer and anyone who came in September/October would find only tomato based breakfasts on the menu. (And speaking of slugs - I garden organically and won't use pellets. And being a big soft veggie I am certainly not growing my own pigs.)

Marmalade and jams come from the lovely ladies at the WI - they're not going to fork out for an organic certifcation but I know their fruit is chemical free. But if they run out of marmalade which happens alarmingly often what then? At the moment I have delicious marmalade made by my friend Karen from Hopton House B&B nearby. Otherwise I buy La Vieja Fabrica made in Seville. It's very good and it's going to be the oranges or the jars of marmalade that are flown over here isn't it? You don't get many productive orange trees in Worcestershire.

And it's not just the food that causes hand-wringing - the laundry - OMG the laundry. For a few months I struggled to do all the washing and ironing myself, but was it such a good thing to have the washing machine and the iron running almost permanently? Now I use a laundry for the bedlinen and towels for guests, and whilst they are using environmentally friendly washing powders, they are of course using industrial sized washing machines, tumble driers and ironing machines. So though I can quite honestly say we don't have a tumble drier on green grounds and all our own washing is air dried, I am in fact paying someone else to use one for me. Oh, what to do, what to do.

It's not easy being green but, dear guest, please trust that I believe in respecting this planet and all that live on it and I am doing the best I possibly can.

Monday, 7 February 2011

February is a time for planning and dreaming. Anything is still possible this year. I can dream of the Hen House and the B&B rooms being booked up for the whole of spring and summer, of the garden looking beautiful from April to September, of fixing my poor old car up, of walking the whole of the Teme Valley, of training the donkeys to pull a cart, of visiting the gardens I want to see and of spending sunny days with good friends.

Some of it I might even manage.

In the meantime, I write lists - each list getting longer daily with a new idea.

And at night I jump into bed with Carol Klein and her gorgeous book 'Life in a Cottage Garden' and I fastforward my dreams and soak up the coming of spring and summer, a notebook on my bedside table for jotting down brilliant tips and the names of plants she makes sound so irresistible. There is plenty of time to fit everything in because it's only February - a time when anything I imagine can become true.