Sunday, 14 September 2008
I ask Kerrang! Radio presenter, Stuart Cable, about his childhood gardening memories.
“Dad was always in the garden.” he recalls. “We grew up in Cwmaman, in a Miner’s terrace house with the garden at the top of loads of steps. Dad was always up there and I used to think gardening just took up too much time. Perhaps he was trying to get away from my Mother, thinking about it!” He laughs.
Are those famous ex-Stereophonics, drumming fingers green? “I do enjoy my garden and I have made hanging baskets with my son Cian, this year – they look great now. I would love to grow my own veg and stuff but I don’t know enough about it really.”
He may not grow his own yet but he enjoys cooking. “There’s not a single vegetable that I don’t like.” He claims proudly, “I’ve recently bought a slow cooker and tonight I’ve got bolognaise with mushrooms, real tomatoes, carrots, peas, onions, celery, chilli and garlic. That’s easily my 5 a day,” he boasts, referring to the 5 portions fruit and veg recommended daily for a healthy lifestyle. “It’s easy to get 5 a day with one-pot cooking. I always buy organic veg when I can and love those Farmers Markets.”
What’s Stuart’s own garden like? “It’s very mature; lots going on. I know there’s a plum tree and an apple tree and a big purple one that I’m not sure about. I’d like to know more about what things are and what to do to them. You should come up and tell me,” he suggests. “I do notice what goes on and what’s flowering but it would be good to know what they are. I spend a lot of time in the garden, playing with the dogs or sitting on the deck in the hammock with a glass of wine listening to music.”
Has the great outdoors inspired his music – poignant lyrics maybe? “Good God no – Kelly would never have let me write anything.” He laughs.
“My son loves being outdoors too; in fact the only way to punish him for anything is to send him to his room. When I was small, the biggest punishment for me was to be kept indoors and he’s the same. He even has a packed lunch for school so he can get out and play quicker.”
I ask Stuart about his views on the current environmental issues. “We do need to change,” he muses, “but it has to begin with the big boys, in China and America. I wonder am I really going to make a difference knocking off a light switch when all the power stations are still spewing their rubbish into the atmosphere? I drive a diesel car and a mechanic told me that diesel burns cleaner than petrol yet diesel is dearer ...Why? There’s no incentive. These days everyone wants to travel further and do it cheaper and quicker. The first plane I went on was when I was 26 years old after signing my first record deal – it wasn’t long before I was catching two a day and I just got bored by it all.”
What are the plans for the drummer’s new band, Killing for Company? “It’ll be great if we get a record deal but at the moment I just want people to hear and enjoy our music. We are having fun and it just feels right when we (brothers Andy and Steve Williams and Greg Jones) jam together. The new line up are all Welsh boys and Stuart concludes passionately, “I tell you what, If we had guaranteed sunshine here for just a month or two we would prosper as a country. There is nowhere in the World as beautiful as Wales.”
Enjoyed the HSBC Cardiff 10K running to raise money for Kidney Wales. Great to see so many people outdoors and being active. Exercise is so important for the mind as well as the body. Very much looking forward to organising the first Crickhowell 10K next spring.
Signed up for my dry stone walling course and can’t wait to start. This one is out of choice ‘though the industry wants everything to be certificated now - ridiculous that men that have been doing these things day in day out for years now have to prove their competence to an 18 year old with a clip board and shiny shoes.
Have vowed to buy all my meat from proper butchers or farm-shops after seeing ‘Food Gone Bad’ this week; when are we going to start valuing ourselves and our bodies enough to say ‘No’ to rubbish. The only part of a pig that wasn’t used in some of the processed products, was his squeak.
Walk barefoot in the early morning dew on the grass. Walking barefooted makes you feel more ‘grounded’; more connected with the Earth and Nature and the soft morning dew is great for your skin.
Wise words from neighbour Dai Dobbs, when he heard we were laying 6 cubic metres of concrete in work, “The trouble with life, is that all your successes are written in sand and your failures are written in concrete.”
Rainbow’s are Nature’s little bits of magic and the recent unsettled weather has provided lots of them. However now you can have a rainbow in your room at the flick of a switch. This amazing little gadget is both entertaining and relaxing and makes a great child’s night light. Using multi-coloured LED’s to recreate the natural colours of the rainbow onto ceilings or walls it’ll brighten up your day or night. For more details visit www.boysstuff.co.uk. Priced at £29.95 - unfortunately it doesn’t come with a pot of gold at the end of it.
Virgo’s love keeping busy and can lean on the side of being fussy and obsessive. Their garden will be neat and tidy and they will always be fanatical about mowing their grass regularly. Virgo’s often specialize in, or prefer, a specific area of gardening and will love topiary. A Virgo’s shed will be well organised and they always put things away after using them. Virgo women prefer artificial plants and flowers in the house as real ones can make a bit of a mess and Virgo children would rather play on the carpet than on the grass.
Saturday, 30 August 2008
It seems Ray MacAllan is rarely off our screens. “I’ve been kept busy, he admits , “I’ve been in Eastenders, Coronation Street, The Bill, Holby City, Honest and Dream Team. And I’ve got a big part coming up again in Eastenders,” he adds, “that’ll be exciting.”
“You won’t have much time for gardening then?” I venture boldly.
The popular actor agrees, quite cheerfully. “I only ever do the really basic stuff anyway. To be honest I don’t like picture postcard gardens, I much prefer a natural garden. When I lived in the Peak District there was a huge natural rockery in the garden. It was beautiful. Wherever I’ve lived, Mum has always come around and given me advice on what to plant and prune. As I’ve changed houses the advice has varied hugely. I’m lucky now as I’ve only got a small garden and my nephew has his own landscaping business so he helps me out. It’s nice to have a beer and watch him!”
Ray is on his way to his weekly Tai Chi class. “We are out in the park tonight,” he explains. “It’s so beautiful, surrounded by peace and quiet - just listening to the birds singing. I love to meditate next to running water too; it all makes you feel at one with Nature. When filming is hectic, it’s a great way to relax.”
“It annoys me when we mess with Nature,” he continues, “we should pull our socks up and be looking for other forms of energy. I know it’s controversial but I’m all for wind farms. There’s a large one between Sheffield and Leeds and it actually looks quite soothing and meditative. And we should make more of the sea’s energy and power. Surely the technology is available? If we can put men on the moon we should be able to harness the Earth’s natural energy; the sun and the wind. “I run through our beautiful Parks and woodland and get annoyed when I think how we are depleting our Planet. Nature is so giving; we must learn not to take so much or at least to give something back.” Ray is putting something back by running the New York Marathon for Leukemia Research and will appreciate all support and donations. Contact him directly at email@example.com for details of how to contribute.
Date for the Dairy
IOG SALTEX is at Windsor Racecourse from 2-4 September. Its must see for anyone in the landscaping, grounds care, sports facilities and amenities sectors. With live working demonstrations, new product launches and over 500 stands and stalls, it’s a great day out and an annual holiday for many grounds men, landscapers and forestry workers. For free registration contact 08445576500
See You There
I will be opening Llangynidr Agricultural Show and Fun Day tomorrow (Sunday), which also incorporates the Village’s 65th Gardening Show. It promises to be great fun and the night will be danced away with a disco and a traditional hog roast. Come along and say ‘hello’; for more details contact 01874 730287
Great Balls of Fun
I know a few people who think they can walk on water but now anyone can. The amazing Walk on Water Ball is a 6 ft diameter inflatable ball that actually allows you to ‘mess about on the water’. A little extravagant at £229.00 but a lotta of fun. And if you prefer dry land, then check out the gigantic 3 m high Rolerball that accommodates two strapped-in people and promises the most awesome adrenalin rush. For the large garden and large pocket at £999.00, but worth just visiting the site to watch the video. www.iwantoneofthose.com
Did You Know?
Although temperatures for last year’s August Bank Holiday reached 24 degrees, in 1996, 1986 and 1976 Wales had wet and windy Bank Holidays with gales and thunderstorms. What will this weekend bring?
Saturday, 16 August 2008
I caught up with ‘Belonging’ actor Steffan Rhodri as he came back from horse-riding. I’ll be ‘living’ in the saddle soon,” he explains, “so I’m preparing.” Also known for his role as Dave the bus driver in Gavin and Stacey, Steffan is taking part in the ‘Amswer Justin Time Horse Ride Challenge’ that is raising money and awareness of pancreatic cancer; a disease that claimed the life of talented TV director, editor and performer Justin Smith.
Leaving Tallacre Beach, near Prestatyn in North Wales at 11 o clock on August the 25th Steff, together with Shan Cothi, Brychan Jones, Brychan’s wife Sian, Justin’s sister Branwen and friend Chris Lewis will be riding the (roughly estimated) 287 miles down through Wales arriving in Ogmore on the 14th September. “I’m the least experienced rider,” confesses Steff, “but I have discovered I’m very good at mapping the routes and finding little bridle paths and Rights of Way. And we’ve also organised some amazing events and concerts at various towns along the way.”
The Twin Town actor, continues, “ I think the most magical thing is going to be seeing Wales as a spectacle. I feel I know Wales well as an Actor but really it’s only the towns, and roads between them, that I ever see. I’m looking forward to riding over mountains, through valleys and rivers.”
Does his appreciation of the countryside mean he’s also a keen gardener? “I’m the World’s Worst Gardener”, he claims adamantly. “I had an allotment once and after spending a day trying to clear it I gave up. I hated it. Dad was a good gardener and my sister has followed in his green footsteps but in some weird sort of transaction I am more like my Mum and would rather do the cooking. In fact,” he admits, “in every relationship I have had I’ve made it clear that I will do the cooking to avoid gardening – it’s always been a kind of trade off.”
For more details, the itinerary, event information and to make a donation to the Welsh based Charity, pop into www.amserjustintime.org or call Harlequin Agency 07966704548
Enjoying the taste of new potatoes straight from the garden at this time of year reminds me to prepare a later harvest for Christmas dinner. There is still just time to plant Carlingford tubers, known as Christmas New Potatoes, in large pots or tubs, so they can be moved into a shed or greenhouse to protect from frost. Available from www.thompson-morgan.com or call 01473 688821. Dearer than other seed potatoes, they are worth every penny.
Back to Our Roots
Alternatively, have the’ new potato taste’ at Christmas by storing August’s potatoes. Lift new potatoes now and place uncooked, unwashed and unblemished potatoes in a biscuit tin. Cover with slightly damp silver sand (not builder’s sand: silver sand is low in iron oxides and salt and is used in children’s sand pits) which can be bought from most garden centres and DIY Stores. Then bury the tin about three feet deep and dig up on Christmas Eve. This old-fashioned method of storing veg is known as the ‘clamp’ method and works well with any root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and beetroot.
I think there is a niche for a ‘summer wellington boot’. And coming close to that, for kids anyway, is a fantastic range of waterproof footwear from www.garden-gear.co.uk They stock little frog, bumble bee and ladybird shoes and ankle boots that would make Gok Wan weep. Also available are ‘paint your own’ wellies – ironically, a great idea for keeping kids amused on rainy days. Call 077767 497443 for more details.
Saturday, 9 August 2008
Coronation Street actress Vicky Binns starts the conversation by admitting she often goes back to her Mum and Dad’s to relax, by pottering around their garden. “It’s the nicest place in the World,” she tells me, “I have got a small flat in Manchester and it drives me nuts being without a garden.”
I wonder if Vicky, who plays Molly in the popular soap, gets involved and helps out? “Good grief, no,” she laughs, “I just listen to Dad telling me about all the things he does to keep the garden looking so good.”
“We were in the garden the other day and Dad said, ‘smell those’ pushing a bunch of sweet peas in my face. It was amazing it immediately reminded me of being a kid. Scent is so emotive. I was 10 again. Dad told me that he loves lobelia because it reminds him of his childhood when his Granddad used to grow it. Dad used to call it ‘low- belia’ she shrieks with laughter.
Vicky does however, have aspirations to grow all her own vegetables one day. “My last landlady and I grew some veg and tomatoes in grow bags at my last flat,” she recalls. “It took us about 4 months to grow one pepper which we cut in half and stuffed to share. And our tomatoes were quite good,” she adds. “I really don’t have much time at the moment,” she explains, “ as I have a heavy story line. I love being busy and we’ve got some new actors starting soon which is exciting. I think I’ve been in every episode for the last three weeks.” Vicky is obviously, and deservingly, very proud of ‘Molly’s’ forthcoming marriage to the Street’s loveable mechanic Tyrone.
I ask if Coronation Street is home to any keen gardeners? “I don’t think so,” she considers, “everyone is pretty busy. I don’t hear any one talking about gardening, though some of the cast are in to ‘keeping fit’ and love walking and running outdoors.”
Is it true Vicky has made her own Keep Fit DVD. “I was actually approached by someone to do that. She giggles, “they asked me how did I fancy losing a bit of weight and doing a dance video?
Was she offended? “Not at all,” she giggles even more, “I am very much aware of who I am and how I look and it was a great one-off opportunity to have a proper trainer and to get fit. ‘Dance It Off’ was great fun and hopefully inspired ‘normal’ people like me to get into shape and improve their confidence. I’ve managed to keep the weight off too.” She adds proudly.
It’s hard to imagine the likeable, light-hearted actress having any grievances but she stresses that her natural instinct is to hate waste. “I hate throwing anything away and all the plastic packaging drives me mad. Why put lovely organic fruit in layers and layers of plastic?” She rants. “I would love to boycott the supermarkets but it’s all about convenience.” She explains. “Back to being busy; life is so fast-paced today.”
And almost by way of explanation she makes her apologies as she is called back to complete her scene.
Did You Know?
The Anglo-Saxons called August ‘Weod Monath’ which means ‘weed month’ – referring to the rapid growth of weeds (grass and other plants) at this time of year.
Watch the Weather
I am a self-confessed gadget-girl and my latest temptation is the new weather-forecasting watch from Oregon Scientific. Measuring barometric pressure to bring you a simple-to-read forecast, it is apparently amazingly accurate. It is also waterproof which is quite a selling point for those of us working outdoors this summer! £39.99 from www.orgonscientific.co.uk
Left, Right, Left, Right
Next Monday (11th) is International Left-handers Day. Apparently on average, left handed people have higher IQ’s; famous left-handers include Prince William, Marilyn Monroe and Leonardo da Vinci and 1 in 4 Apollo astronauts were left-handed (250% more the normal level). And now there are tools, including secateurs, edging shears and tape measures, for the ‘lefties’ too. I was told, ‘if you have to ask why left-handers can’t use ordinary tools then you must be right-handed’.
For more information, a range of tools and a chance to join the Left-Handers Club, visit www.anythinglefthanded.co.uk or call 0208 7703722
Saturday, 2 August 2008
Author and broadcaster Gilli Davies admits she was lucky to be ‘in’ at the beginning of TV cookery programmes and was therefore, able to promote the benefits of local food production. “I stumbled into it,” she told me. “I had trained as a secretary and worked in fashion and at the time I was a nanny for a couple who owned a pub. One night they were short staffed so I put the baby to bed and went to the kitchen. It was just wonderful, I immediately knew wanted to cook. I later started writing by taking over a cookery column and that led into broadcasting – none of it was planned but I absolutely loved it. I worked with Nick Bailey from Classic FM and set fire to his studio once or twice,” she laughs.
Does the popular author grow her own veg? “I have grown a lot in the past. We love peas and beans so we just grow those now. And we’ve got raspberry canes and currants in the garden. Herbs have always been very important to me and I’ve got a lovely herb bed just outside the kitchen window full of different sages, bronze fennel, sorrel, rosemary and bay. I love cooking with fresh herbs and using them in salads. I love broad beans with parsley sauce but I’m working on a recipe that keeps the herb but not the white sauce. Maybe a herby vinaigrette?” she says almost to herself. “Rhodri Morgan once challenged me to make a fat free Welsh cake. I managed it and sent him the recipe based on a fat free yoghurt.”
Gilli’s real passion is sourcing her ingredients. “ I love shopping on the wing, foraging for the ingredients and then putting a dish together with what I’ve found. The fun is sourcing the produce.
When I was based in Wales, she is now based in Yorkshire with husband Peter Cliff, I had to travel to London to meet with producers of Welsh produce. The logistics were daft but it inspired me to write about Welsh food and in the series Tastes of Wales we simply celebrated local food. I’m not too precious about organic produce. I think it is more important to be local and at the very best, straight out the garden. Organic beans from Kenya are just not the same.”
Gilli’s latest book Celtic Cuisine can be purchased from all good bookshops or visit www.gillidavies.co.uk for more details of Gilli’s cookery school (‘for men too,’ she adds).
Gilli’s Green Tips
Gilli and Peter have spent the last two years concentrating on ways to change their energy consumption. “We have put in solar panels which heat all our hot water and have cut down our electric bills enormously. She says and adds proudly, “I drive a Skoda 1.8 which does an amazing 55 miles to the gallon. I also play lots of golf which takes ages and keeps me out of the shops, stops me spending money and collecting all that packaging.” She laughs.
Recently voted Best Gardening Product of The Year, the enamelled Fire Bucket barbeque might come in handy now we are actually having a summer. Some bright spark has transformed the traditional fire bucket to provide a funky, portable barbeque for alfresco fun. £24.99 from www.gadgets.co.uk or call 01923750075. The same company also have the great Tennis Fly Swatters. The fabulous electric bug-zapping, tennis racket style swatters are an effective and entertaining way to annihilate flies and mosquitoes for only £9.99.
Did You Know?
Houseflies hum in the middle octave, key of F and take off backwards; mosquitoes have 47 teeth and are twice as attracted to the colour blue than any other.
Saturday, 26 July 2008
In her usual modest style, Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson DME asks me to describe her as an ex-athlete, “I seem to spend most of my time in meetings now” she adds a little wistfully. “I love being outdoors and always trained outside in any weather – wearing thermals and a bobble hat in the winter she laughs. The ex paralympian (14 times medal winner- 9 Gold, and holder of over 30 World Records) tells me she is much more into gardening these days. “I used to just hack everything back, she confesses, but we have recently moved house and have got a lovely mature garden so we have decided not to ruin it. If I didn’t like the look of something I just used to pull it up and then find out it was a plant. Ian (Tanni’s husband) won’t let me have a chainsaw so I have to make do with my hedge cutter, which is quite good for hacking actually!”
“I think I get my hacking skills from my Mother, Dad loved ivy and let it grow everywhere and Mum would keep hacking it back. They weren’t great gardeners, I remember Dad climbing up the apple tree to prune it and getting stuck. Mum just said, “I told you so.”
We are planning to grow some veg in the new garden. My first attempt at tomatoes was using grow bags outside the kitchen window. I used to open the window and throw water at them. I fed them too much or at the wrong time and all the flowers fell off. I s’pose I’m a bit of a random gardener really. We recently bought 10 goldfish for our pond and the next day Carys (10 yrs old) came sauntering in and casually said, ‘well, one’s dead already Mum’.”
“But,” she says proudly, “I am compulsive about recycling and get really annoyed about the amount of packaging used. When I buy new shoes I always refuse to take the box. And I love jumble sales and second hand clothes. My family have always been really embarrassed about it but now the clothes are called ‘vintage’ and it’s cool. They got mad with me when I picked up a jumper I liked and they said, ‘you only brought that in last week’! The worst thing is I have to tell everyone about my bargains. I was at a posh do a couple of weeks ago and someone asked where I got my lovely designer dress from – I had to tell them I only paid £2 for it from a Charity Shop. I think it’s a Welsh thing – I just can’t keep it to myself!”
One of Tanni’s new ventures has been co-designing a range of clothes for disabled children and adults. The new Tanni&Anni Range at Rackety’s caters for people with special needs, disabilities and wheelchair users, all of whom have busy and exciting lives. “People in wheelchairs used to have to have their coats put on back to front,” explains Tanni, “which is a bit humiliating to be honest.”
Children’s T-shirts have funky messages such as ‘Wicked on Wheels’ and ‘There’s no need to stare, I know I’m cool!’ Check out http://www.tanniandanni.com/ for the full range or call 01538381430
Running for Marie Curie Cancer Care
I first met Tanni at the launch of last year’s BUPA Great Welsh Run. Typically, as she was no longer competing as a professional athlete, she was mischieviously threatening to dress up as a chicken to complete the course. Unfortunately she can’t make this year’s race, tomorrow (27th) but I will be running again, with celebrities from Eastenders, Emmerdale, This Morning and of course, Lynn ‘the Leap’ Davies. We are all proud to be raising money and awareness for Marie Curie Cancer Care and would love to see you there. Join us at Cardiff Bay at 9.30am Sunday 27th to cheer us on our way and pop into http://www.mariecurie.org.uk/ for more information.
Did You Know?
National Parks Week runs from the 28th July until 3rd August, promoting Wales’s Brecon Beacon’s National Park and Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, amongst others. You are encouraged to join in the many activities on offer during the week and simply enjoy the beautiful scenery and surroundings.
Children were asked “Who likes shepherd’s pie, Sunday roast and kebabs?”
“We do!” They cried
“Where do they come from?” they were asked
“The shops!” was the reply.
National Parks Week is celebrating the year of Food and Farming and reconnecting people to the landscape that provides their food and local produce. Visit www.nationalparks.gov.uk
Sunday, 20 July 2008
Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for Cardiff Central, Jenny Randerson, describes herself as a ‘self taught gardener’. “My experience has come mainly from taming a wilderness,” she laughs, “it’s a large garden by urban standards, about quarter of an acre, and we’ve had a complete mix, including an orchard, a veg patch, rockery, grass and even a pond. We have recently abandoned the veg to try and reduce the amount of work. Whoever invented elections every May was obviously not a gardener as it’s a crucial time to be sowing seeds in the veg garden. Both my husband and I get totally involved in electioneering so we have no time for the garden then. It’s a wilderness now; it’s heading towards being a wildlife garden but not quite created itself properly yet. We love rare, wild flowers and my husband Peter, who is a Botanist by training, always mows very lovingly around a beautiful little orchid we have growing in the middle of our lawn.”
Jenny is also an avid composter. “None of our household waste goes out in the bin, she says proudly, “it’s all composted and we have a wormery too. In fact when we moved house, the neighbours thought we were mad because we bagged up and moved the compost before moving the furniture!”
How else does she do her bit for the environment? “My weakness is the car,” she admits, “I have recently made a rule that if I have to do a long journey for work then I will use the train when possible. My son refuses to have a car; he lives in London and cycles everywhere, (“I’m no good on a pushbike,” she confides, “my Mum wouldn’t let me have one”). “ He won’t take short haul flights either and when he and his Dad went ski-ing, they went by train. It took longer but they really enjoyed it and saw so much more.”
Jenny returns to talking fondly about her garden. “It’s a tremendous source of peace which is priceless; it’s not immaculate but I love it. We have a summer house, which is called the ‘Summer Palace’ as it took so long to build, and I sit in there with my papers working in the evenings. It’s great thinking space. Gardening is also such good exercise – productive exercise, far more productive than those silly treadmills.” She concludes passionately.
Wonderful Wormeries (and more)
I have sung the praises of Wiggly Wigglers for some time – they are such an amazing company and are also growing at a rate of knots. Suppliers of all things ‘green and beautiful’, their already extensive catalogue now includes delights such as Wildflower Turf, Sprouting Seed Pergolas, unusual veg (including blue potatoes), cement shopping bags (made by a woman’s co-operative in Bangladesh, these cotton lined recycled bags once held 50kgs of cement), and the most beautiful natural flower bouquets. They still supply simple-to-get-going wormeries, insect houses and composters as well as books, DVD’s and expert advice. The catalogue is packed with tips and great ideas and information and is just a fabulous read. Do get a copy http://www.wigglywigglers.co.uk/ or call 01981500391
From Russia With Love
Having just returned from a whistle-stop tour of Russia and the Eastern bloc, and whilst Hubby was absorbing historical and political facts, I thought I’d share some of the less conventional facts that I remember. In Poland, white asparagus is grown extensively and the crop has to be kept covered with soil (like potatoes) to prevent sunlight turning the spears green. This makes picking the crop quite an art and the last year or two asparagus has been left to rot in the ground due to the skilled harvesters having sought work elsewhere. In Russia, people in the service industry are attending courses to learn how to smile; The Hermitage at St Petersburg has so many exhibits on display that if you wanted to see each one it would take almost 3 years; Helsinki has recently imported foxes to control the rapidly growing rabbit population in the City Centre; Tallinn has only 4 hours of daylight each day during the winter months. Five years ago Moscow was experiencing winter temperatures of around - (minus)28 degrees but last year the lowest temperature recorded in the City was +8 degrees..... and it still didn’t raise a smile!
An entirely new species of slug has been found in Welsh gardens. The white, nocturnal, carnivorous slug has been christened the ‘ghost slug’ or Selenochlamys ysbryda (ysbryd being Welsh for ghost) by scientists at the National Museum of Wales and Cardiff University. Ben Rowson said, “We thumbed through old Russian and German records and found that they’re entirely new. As it is an undescribed species we christened it with a Welsh title which we think is the first time a Welsh word has been used in an animal’s scientific name.”
The ghost slug feeds on earthworms and could, potentially, become a pest though more needs to be discovered about it first.
Did I mention Wiggly Wigglers sell worms?
Monday, 30 June 2008
Chief Constable of South Wales Police, Barbara Wilding, first got a taste for gardening during maternity leave, 20 years ago. “I thoroughly enjoyed having time to work in the garden even though I couldn’t do too much as I was heavily pregnant but I promised myself that when I retired I would do more.”
“Having just renovated two barns, I’ve started work on the garden a little earlier than anticipated. It’s been terrific having a brand new garden to develop. I’ve planted bulbs, hedges, a camomile lawn and a wildflower meadow. I get stuck in and get dirty, I love it. It’s so therapeutic, though I do have aches and pains every weekend as a result.”
Where does she get the inspiration from? “Dad always said ‘spend your money on the soil rather than plants’ so I had to do a lot of ground preparation and then did lots of research,” she tells me. “ I visited lots of National Trust Gardens, bought some great books, like the Garden of Highgrove (Prince Charles’ garden)and made lots of notes. I’m having to take my garden in pieces and do a bit at a time. I have always wanted an old fashioned greenhouse so maybe that’ll be next year’s project. I also want to keep the garden quite low maintenance as I want to travel more when I retire.”
No qualms about her carbon footprint then? Barbara snorts indignantly. “I think I have already offset my carbon footprint,” she explains, “I planted 400 trees last year and will be planting a lot more before I retire, so I’ll be able take flights with an easy conscience.”
“In fact,” she continues,” the Force had its Carbon Footprint calculated by the Carbon Trust and we have a programme to follow to reduce it. Obviously we have a huge fleet of vehicles and we can’t double up on people using them so we have to look at vehicles with low emissions and fuel consumption. I actually bought one of the first hybrid cars and it’s certainly created conversations. We need to make sure the fleet, and the Force, are environmentally friendly; I am highly committed and believe that any small improvements that can be made in their working environment will be advantageous in their personal lives too. The Organisation consists of nearly 6,000 people who all have families, so we are reaching between 18,000 and 24,000 people in Wales which is not inconsiderable. And I will not have bottled water any more,” she adds adamantly. “At all of our meetings, we have water from the tap like the old days.”
I’m curious to know how that has change has been received? As direct as ever, Barbara replies, “Well, let’s just say if anyone has a problem with it, I haven’t heard about it.”
Barbara also told me she knew that a lot of ‘troubled’ young people were ‘finding themselves through gardening. One school in particular had offered an alternative curriculum to kids from dysfunctional backgrounds and who were in danger of dropping out of school. The first new subject to be oversubscribed was horticulture and the school’s team has gone on to win awards and have built several sensory gardens for the disabled. “They realise there are people less well off then themselves,” explained Barbara, “they also feel appreciated and of course they are tired at the end of the day so less inclined to create trouble. Gardening can be fun and hugely rewarding, for anyone.”
Visit www.carbontrust.co.uk for a fabulous method of calculating your own carbon footprint. Based on your home, appliances and travel information, it is quick and simple to use . The average Welshman contributes around 8.5 tons per year and my own steel toe-capped footprint worked out at 7 tons.
It has been suggested that biggest carbon footprint ever is that of a football boot. David Beckham’s carbon emissions are estimated at a whopping 165 tons per year. That obviously contributes to him and wife Victoria having the unfortunate title of the ‘Worlds Most Eco-Unfriendly Celebrity Couple’.
Did You Know?
It takes three times as much water to make a plastic bottle than to fill it.
It took over 12 million barrels of oil to make the plastic water bottles used in the UK last year.
Over 1.5 million tons of plastic are used to bottle water.
A friend was horrified to catch her toddler about to put a slug in his mouth. “Don’t do that” she screamed , “it won’t taste nice.” she added by way of explanation. “Tastes just like worms” her toddler replied casually.
Sunday, 29 June 2008
It was the heat wave of 1976 that first sparked Derek Brockway’s interest in the weather. The BBC Wales weatherman recalls, “I was only 8 but I was reading all the newspapers and drove my parents bonkers by channel hopping to get all the weather reports and information that I could. I was fascinated and went on to do science as A levels – maths being the most important of course. I joined the Met office when I was 19, starting at the bottom. Then I did all the internal Met office courses to become a forecaster. I’m not just a presenter.” He adds quickly.
Derek admits, “It’s always a challenge forecasting the Welsh weather. Being positioned next to the Atlantic, we get plenty of rain and the close continental landmass supplies the SW winds. Geographically, we can get it all.”
Does he ever get blamed for bad weather? “Sometimes. He shrugs, “people like to shoot the messenger. Unfortunately, they only remember the times I’m wrong not the times I’m right. Computers make forecasting more accurate these days. It’s a mix of art and science - with a lot of experience,” he explains.
How accurate are the Old Wives Tales and Folklore? “There are over 3,000 proverbs used in connection with the weather – some are good. Most methods are reactive rather than predictive. Seaweed and pinecones, for example, react to the atmosphere rather than predict the weather.”
Derek is well known for his love of walking but what about gardening? “I went through a fad as a teenager” he confesses. “I did the borders, planted bulbs and spent all Dads money in the Garden Centre buying trees. I remember buying a beautiful Prunus ‘Amanogawa’ (Japanese Cherry). My own garden now is low maintenance because my job keeps me so busy and the weekends are always full. Perhaps I’ll get stuck in again when I retire.”
Does the ‘walking weatherman’ put changes in weather patterns down to global warming? “We don’t get snow like we used to when I was a boy. The last bad snowfall was 1982. Some changes are natural, some are due to Man’s influence. I try to do my bit for the environment, though there’s always room for improvement. I wash my own car now instead of using the carwash and I’m investigating solar energy. A lot of the new solar products use radiation through clouds, you don’t need direct sunlight.”
I have to ask – how much sunshine can we expect this summer? “The trends are for the summers to get hotter and drier with more extremes, more storms. There will always be natural variations but I don’t think this summer will be as bad as last which was the wettest on record . I think it’ll be pretty mixed, a typical Welsh summer; a bit of sun, a bit of rain. Who needs heat waves anyway? They’re no good for anyone or anything. 25 degrees is great.
Flower colours have more effect on our moods and feelings than we perhaps realise. Yellow blooms are associated with sunshine and happiness, orange flowers will increase feelings of vibrancy and energy and reds evoke passion and sensuality. White flowers are very healing and calming whilst blue and purple are thought to be inspiring. Pinks and lilacs are associated with romance and nostalgia and creams and greens (foliage) with nurturing and compassion. What do your floral displays say about you?
Why not have a go at predicting the weather yourself? There are a wide range of home weather stations, instruments and barometers available for the ‘want-to-be-weatherman’ (or woman). From simple rain gauges to technical data loggers and suitable for the enthusiast or educational purposes find out more at www.ukweathershop.co.uk or call 08456800868
Saturday, 31 May 2008
Freelance entity and horseman (and newly married) Brychan Jones is busy organising a 240 mile sponsored ride from the coast of north Wales to the coast of South Wales, which will start on the 25th August. The presenter of Ar Garlam (At a Gallop), currently showing on S4C, explains why. “We have set up a new Charity to raise money and awareness of pancreatic cancer. Good friend and fellow rider, Shan Cothi lost her husband, Justin, to the disease recently and we wanted to do something in his memory and to help others. Can you believe there has been no progress or developments in treating this type of cancer? The same number of people die from it now as did in the 1950’s and earlier. We are heading the Charity because we want the money to stay in Wales and to know how it is being used. You can see more at www.amswerjustintime.co.uk”
There is no doubt that plain speaking Brychan is very much an outdoor man. “I’m a farmer’s son and am in tune with nature,” he agrees. “I had a proper job for 5 years and hated my time being owned by someone else and being in an office. I’m a horseman, a countryman I love hunting (legally) and a big fan of point to pointing. I would like to see the Hunt’s promote it more – it’s a great sport that more people should be enjoying. The first time I jumped a fence was two weeks before my first race and I came 2nd” he laughs. “That was the second best day of my life he confides, marrying Sian was the best. We both rode to the Church, it was fabulous.”
“You get to see so much more of the countryside from horseback. We are blessed to have such a beautiful country and to be able to enjoy it thanks to the kindness or farmers and landowners.”
“I feel sad for City people who don’t realise the beauty of the countryside. I have Tipi’s on the farm in West Wales and people come to stay from London. They see real stars for the first time and hear the silence. Some of the kids have never even seen sheep. It’s tremendous to see the youngsters interacting with animals for the first time, it makes them realise life isn’t all about human beings, animals have needs and rights too. It’s emancipating.”
Back to Nature
Brychan’s Tipi’s are based in the beautiful countryside of Cardigan and are certainly an excellent way to get in tune with Nature. Where else could you lie in bed listening to the crackle of the open indoor campfire whilst watching the stars twinkle overhead? Cooking is easily done on the open fire and bbq’s are also available. The site is secure and overlooks Aber-porth with it’s sheltered beaches and all for only £20.00 per adult per night. The photos alone are worth checking out – visit www.tipiwest.co.uk or call 07813672336
Did You Know?
This week is Wildlife Week – running from the 31st May to the 21st June, this year hosts a Triple Bill (three weeks) of events offering everyone the opportunity to get involved in an activity or project to raise the awareness of conservation issues. Run by the Wildlife Trust there is an extensive programme of local events designed to encourage everyone to interact with wildlife, from Bat mornings, owl encounters and rockpool rambles. To find out more visit www.wildlifetrusts.org or call 01636677711 to find out what’s happening near you.
Tipi or not Tipi ...
Fancy having your own tipi? What better way to observe Nature and local wildlife? Although described as temporary structures, the Tipi’s are strong and durable enough to be lived in year round. If that seems a bit too ‘green’ for you, they also make excellent garden rooms, retreats and can provide extra sleeping accommodation. Available in sizes from 30’ to 10’, all tipi’s can be made to measure and to your specific requirements and even the largest can be dismantled and re erected in less than 3 hours. An 18’ Tipi will entertain 8 people comfortably, sleep 4 and cost £2,400; a 14’ Tipi will sleep 2 and cost £1,600.00 and children’s Tipi’s are available at around £900.00 The Bedouin tents are also beautiful and have separate indoor sections for a little more privacy. All these are available for hire too. Have a look at www.sheltersunlimited.co.uk or telephone Bob on 01654761720. Offering friendly and down to earth advice the company are based in Machynlleth, North Wales and have an 18 acre site that you can visit. And make sure you ask about the light shows, where Tipi’s are used as projection screens – brilliant!
Saturday, 24 May 2008
TV presenter Alex Jones was almost as quick as I was to change back into jeans after a glamorous photo shoot to promote the George Thomas Hospice Celebrity Ladies Day Ascot Dinner. ‘”I’m working with kids at the moment on a series called Hip neu Skip (Hip or Skip) and it’s bliss going to work in jeans,” she admits. Sounds fun. “It is. It’s a sort of Changing Rooms for kids. Apart from a tree house that we did, all the makeovers have been indoors so far but we are planning to branch out to the garden. The kids love being outdoors. I’m sure being in the fresh air gives them even more energy.”
Is Alex keen to move the show outdoors too? “Definitely, I love being out. My boyfriend Matt and I walk a lot. We walked up Snowdon and I had new boots on. It was so painful; I had to peel them off at the end. I still enjoyed it though. I love living in town but we get out to the country to walk as often as we can. It’s so good for you. I work a lot in North Wales and it’s beautiful in the summer, I love the scenery there.”
Is her own garden in line for a makeover? “No, there wouldn’t be room for all the kids,” she laughs. “I call it a courtyard garden but Dad, Alun, calls it a path! I have room for a table and what I lovingly refer to as ‘the forest’, which consists of a pear tree, another tree but I don’t know what it is, and a few tulips. The pear tree is lovely but when you’re eating outside late in the summer the pears drop on your head. Dads good, he helps out – when he was over last time he said something about a plant and mumbled, ‘broom’ , so I went to get the brush! I’ve just added three stone-shaped solar lights too. They don’t give much light but they look pretty.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing what we can recycle in the gardens with the kids. They’re great and always find a use for things the adults would throw in the skip. They don’t know any different having been brought up not to throw things away. There are even places where you can take old furniture and they sell it for Charity, there’s one near Pontypridd. The trend seems to be for ‘shabby chic’ now so that lends itself to recycling and using older pieces. We recently turned an old bath panel into a piece of art for the wall. You have to be creative – it’s great to stretch the imagination. We are going to be turning an old caravan into a den for a 15 year old so he can have his own space. I think that’s probably the ultimate in recycling.”
For more information on the George Thomas Hospice Celebrity Ladies Day Ascot Dinner and other events that the Charity organise, contact Sharon Owen on 02920524150 or visit www.george-thomas-hospice.org.uk
These Boots are made for Walking
As Alex says, walking is very good for you and what could be better than raising money and awareness whilst you walk. The British Heart Foundation is holding the Brecon Beacons Challenge on Midsummer’s Day, 21st June. The event challenges you to complete a three peak, 12 mile course in the beautiful National Park. Not only is it a great way to keep your own heart healthy but also an opportunity to help the thousands of children and adults living with heart disease. I was horrified to learn that every 2 minutes someone has a heart attack in the UK and half of those will be fatal. So make a note in your diary, stretch your legs, enjoy the fresh air and make a difference.
Contact Delyth Lloyd on 02920 382406 or 07885 435655 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Recycle the Recognised and the Random
For ideas on how to reuse and recycle familiar and more bizarre items visit www.recyclethis.co.uk Suggestions include using old dustbins for storing compost, animal food or tools, as a rain water butt or planting potatoes and other veg. Old tyres can be made into a swing, a mini propagator or a wormery and even old branches could become beautiful decorative candle holders. Ahead of his time maybe, I remember my Granddad making me a hamster house from an old TV set, though I don’t think today’s ultra-thin sets would have the same ‘kerb appeal’.
Did You Know?
Described as the Gardening Catwalk, Chelsea Flower Show is in its 85th year and is attended by over 157,000 people – that’s about half the population of Cardiff. This year the trend was considered to be ‘green’, hmmm – no kidding?
Saturday, 17 May 2008
I’m not sure how to introduce Adele Nozedar. “Put me as an author,” she laughs, “it’s great to have something legit at last to put on my passport.” Indeed this multi-talented lady could be ‘titled’ many things – the musician and photographer,(to name but a few) runs a popular (but remote)recording studio at the foot of the Brecon Beacons with her husband, and is currently researching for her third book.
The first, The Secret Language of Birds, launched Adele into a new career and lead directly to the the commissioning of her recent release, The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Signs and Symbols – The Ultimate A-Z Guide from Alchemy to the Zodiac.
“It is a bit of a mouthful,” she admits, “ and it is a big book – it’s a huge subject. Harper Collins have described it as the biggest A-Z reference book on symbolic objects you’ll ever find.”
“It’s weird realising I have such little routine in my life these days. I quit the corporate life years ago when a serious illness made me reassess my life. Nature is very important to me and I respect it hugely. I love to be out walking with the dogs; with the studio, we often work right through the nights so I can be out walking at any time of the day or night really.”
“I love trees. They always look as though they are waiting for something but are always doing something while they wait. Whether it’s quietly forming new buds or unfurling leaves and getting their solar-powered system going. I love the way they age; their innate spirit and wisdom. Also they’re just beautiful. Every tree I’ve planted here has grown,” she tells me proudly,” which is strange when you think we are virtually on rock. When we first came, we brought in loads of topsoil and I imagined my garden looking like something out of Arabian Nights, full of scented roses and exotic climbers with funny names. Now my gardening mantra is ‘if it doesn’t die, buy a few more.’ Interestingly, we have a lot of St John’s Wort that grows wild and a naturopathic doctor friend who uses plant remedies insists that everything you need is within 50 yards of you. Nature sees to that. St John’s Wort helps alleviate depression and if you spent a winter up here you would understand why Nature provides it for the locals. I’ve just planted up a couple of pots with Calendula as I fuse the leaves and petals with melted Vaseline to make a wonderful soothing and healing ointment.”
So how are the recycling facilities in such a remote area? “During the foot and mouth crisis the dustbin men weren’t allowed up here, so we literally recycled everything during that time. It wasn’t difficult. I did ask for a refund on our council tax but they said no.”
“I think children are leading the recycling revolution but slowly, slowly it’s becoming the norm. Babyshambles were recording here recently (yes, Kate Moss came too) and their security guard growled that it was a waste of time putting recycling bins out for them. They were the best though, they recycled everything and loved it. In general, it’s too easy to penalise people, it’s far better to use reward than punishment. I remember when you could get 10p back on an empty bottle of pop, you didn’t see any of them discarded in hedgerows then!”
Monday sees the end of ‘Be Nice to Nettles Week, so there is still time to spoil your stingers! Nettles are still used in a wide variety of ways with the very young leaves being used like spinach in cooking, and roots and leaves are boiled to produce green and yellow dyes that are used extensively in Russia. They were even used as a substitute for cotton to make German Army uniforms in the First World War. In the garden they attract butterflies and if you really can’t bring yourself to be ‘nice to nettles,’ then they are an excellent addition to the compost heap as the nitrogen they contain fuels the bacteria that breaks down the waste into compost.
The stinging structure of a nettle is similar to a hypodermic needle, though of far earlier origin obviously. Each sting is a hollow hair with a little pocket of venom at the base.
The tip of the hair is so brittle that even the gentlest of touches will break it exposing the sharp needle-type point that delivers the actual sting. As kids, we were always told that docks always grow near nettles so they can be rubbed onto the sting and the dock leaf does indeed contain a chemical that neutralises the sting and eases the itching.
It’s the time of year for grow bags, hanging baskets, tubs, flower pouches and containerised displays in general. We all love to look at them and pick from them but watering them can be a chore. Compost needs to be kept damp to be able to absorb water, when dried out, water will just run off leaving dehydrated plants and frustrated gardeners. A nifty little device promises to change all that. The Bottle-Top Water Spike is a plastic nozzle that screws onto a litre plastic drinks bottle. Simply fill the bottle with water – adding liquid feed if necessary – screw on the spike and place vertically in the compost in the container. The flow can be regulated through the nozzle and the ‘fill-it and leave-it’ system keeps the compost moist and frees you up to do other things. It’s also a clever way to recycle those plastic bottles. 6 spikes cost just £6.50 and can be bought from www.trevena.co.uk tel: 0845 2579123 and I have also seen them at garden centres.
Saturday, 10 May 2008
Mention the word ‘dowsing’ and most people will assume you mean looking for hidden water with two sticks or rods. “That is exactly what attracted me to it” laughs John Flavell M Sc. “I was an academic, a computer scientist and the Vice Principal of a College and then one hot summer the spring that feeds our cottage dried up. We had a geologist come out to see if he could find a well or a new source of water for us. He walked over the field with two brass ‘L’ rods and they kept crossing in certain spots. As a scientist, I was very sceptical so he invited me to try it myself. It worked for me too and I was immediately ‘hooked’.”
“I went on a few courses and found I was actually quite good at it so went on to become a registered tutor for the British Society of Dowsers.”
John’s own dowsing courses are very popular. “It is something most people can do, all you need is an open mind” he explains “and you can dowse for all sorts of things including health and wellbeing. Although no one really knows how it works, I think it’s very much a case of tapping into a natural energy field. You can’t do it for someone, they do it for themselves. It’s all about personal responsibility and harnessing your own power.”
John’s experience with dowsing led him to investigate other avenues and (with a little nudge from wife Beth), he qualified as a hypnotherapist and also teaches NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) and TPM (Thought Pattern Management). He is quick to tell me, “I’m not keen on the titles of these disciplines, I just see it as common sense. We should want to take responsibility for our behaviour and lifestyles.”
He makes reference to environmental issues. “We know there is a serious problem but there is still more talk than action. We need to work in harmony – with Nature and each other. See Nature as a friend not just a provider to take advantage of.”
“I often play Bach to my plants. I read about a wonderful experiment that showed plants prefer classical music to hard rock. They actually grew away from the speakers that played the rock and toward the ones playing classical music. Plants know what they need to be the best they can be – we can learn a lot from them.”
Learn to Dowse
John taught me to dowse last year and I have been a huge fan ever since. The results speak for themselves, for even the most sceptical. Merging my own passion for Nature and John’s expertise we have put together a day’s course on Dowsing in the Garden. Held in the beautiful Brecon Beacons the courses are friendly and informal. As well as learning about the basic tools and ethics for dowsing, we will show you how to work with Nature and get to most out of your space; how to energise and increase the fertility of the soil; how to deal with pests and disease naturally; holistic design and even how to improve your own energy levels and motivation.
For more details contact me at or John at email@example.com or visit http://www.lynneallbutt.co.uk/ or http://www.johnflavell.co.uk/
Did You Know?
Last week was Compost Aware Week when public and business communities were encouraged to get composting. I’m all for raising awareness but remember to compost for life not just a week!
The British Society of Dowsers celebrates its 75th anniversary this year and is the leading organisation in the UK for dowsers. To find out more about this fascinating discipline, buy products or become a member, visit http://www.britishdowsers.org/ or telephone 01684 576969. You can also visit the National Dowsing Centre in Malvern but do call to check opening times.
Saturday, 3 May 2008
The only Welshman to ever win Olympic gold in a track and field event, long jumper Lynn ‘The Leap’ Davies likens winning to developing a garden. “You have to have that end goal in sight, or a vision and then you continually work toward it. And whether its gardening or sport, it helps to have some expert advice and to be nurtured on that journey.” He explains.
“As a kid I was very competitive and athletic and was always jumping over rivers and climbing trees. Later, when I met up with Coach Ron Pickering, he was then able to channel and develop my talent and ambition which was a winning formula.”
“My wife, Meriel and I have created our own garden from nothing and in the early days, when I was teaching physical education, I wasn’t really interested in the garden but as the garden developed so did my interest and I enjoyed planting trees and laying lawns. I planted a row of trees just before leaving to compete in the Mexico Olympics. When we were there, Ron rang my wife and said ‘tell me something that will really anger Lynn so we can get him fired up for the competition.’ Meriel replied ‘tell him some of the trees died!’ It didn’t work though as that was the year Bob Beamon famously jumped 29.2 ft (8m 90) which was a World Record for 23 years. I couldn’t be angry enough to beat that.” (Lynn modestly omits to tell me he held the Welsh record for 34 years).
“I wish someone had told me how important regular pruning is.” He continues, “ I have trees now that have gone past their best because I didn’t manage them correctly. I hate seeing conifers that have been cut back to bare wood.”
“My own garden is a corner plot and is sort of divided into sections. I’ve got an area of gravel, boulders and low growing shrubs that resemble a Japanese garden. That’s the structured look that I love and it’s low maintenance. I first saw that style at the Tokyo Olympics; travelling the World inspires you. Even if you don’t realise it, I think you are always noticing different styles of garden. I love seeing what people do with their gardens and always enjoy watching the garden makeover programmes. They motivate you. My wife likes a lawn so I have to compromise. She’s an art teacher and the garden is full of little sculptures and figures that the students have created and don’t want. It’s like an art gallery. There’s a headless, topless woman with an arm missing just outside the back door,” he laughs.
Currently President of UK Athletics, Lynn returns to the similarities between gardening and sport. “It’s all about motivation and action. Focus on what you want and you’ll move toward it. Never underestimate the power of the mind. As Ron used to say ‘a good coach needs to give you roots so you can grow and wings so you can fly.’”
The wonderful philosophy associated with Japanese gardening is that one shouldn’t create anything that Nature wouldn’t, so no square ponds or fountains for example. The apparent ‘emptiness’ - a sharp contrast to our ‘busy’ and ‘full’ Western gardens - creates a feeling of ‘space’, promoting peace and stillness. Boulders are used to represent mountains, and raked gravel donates the continual flow of water. It is also important for the space to be enclosed as the garden is perceived as being a separate World that one can visit leaving behind their worries and concerns.
Rocks are the ‘bones’ of a Japanese garden. Try to include a tall vertical stone, a low vertical stone and a horizontal stone. Stones are best placed as a group of three but can be in two’s to represent male and female. There are also stones to avoid – the diseased stone, one with a misshapen or disfigured top; the dead stone, a stone with a horizontal grain that is propped upright, like a dead body and the pauper stone, which is a stone that bears no relation to any other stone in the garden.
Similarly, rockeries should be constructed with natural stone set well into the soil to resemble a natural outcrop. Avoid ‘the current bun’ – a rockery with stones placed on the soil surface and the ‘dog’s grave’ using single, isolated stones.
For a wide range of Oriental products including screening, statues, drilled stones and furniture for your Japanese style garden (and even a kimono to wear whilst gardening) visit http://www.japangardening.co.uk/ They also offer great advice on planning and constructing relevant projects.
Did You Know?
In Japan, Santa Claus is a woman!
Saturday, 26 April 2008
Stand up comedian, Rhod Gilbert earliest gardening memories were rather painful. “My Mum used to send me out to the garden with a bowl to pick fruit for hours at a time. I remember picking gooseberries, then topping and tailing the damn things until my finger bled and all the horrible bits got stuck under my nails. It was like the workhouse. Blackcurrants weren’t much better, though I didn’t mind picking raspberries and strawberries so much. Has this traumatic childhood experience put him off growing his own? “Not at all,” he laughs, “I’ll do the same as my Mother and get someone else to do the picking!”
“The lads and I (Rhod shares the house with 3 mates) are intending to tackle the garden next. We’ve done a lot in the house, which I’ve talked about on the radio programme (Radio Wales Saturday mornings) though I still haven’t got any furniture in my room after 9 months and everything’s still in boxes. Getting started in the garden is proving to be a bit harder. We go outside, lean on the wall and talk about it but haven’t really got going yet. We’re all foodies, (it’s not all takeaways and beer here believe it or not) and we’d love to be growing our own veg and herbs. We’ve put four packets of herbs in window boxes already – the thymes doing well but I can’t remember what the others are. I s’pose I’ll find out in a while. The garden’s never going to be Chelsea Flower Show. I think it’s a lot easier to pretend I like weeds and I’m going for the natural look – I think a garden can look too neat. I wouldn’t want ours to look too posh.” he says drily!
“We can see ourselves spending a lot of time out there in the better weather. We bought a massive BBQ and proper cover for it last week but someone said it takes about 2 or 3 hours to put together so it’s still in the box in the kitchen at the moment. With the cover over it.”
“I definitely won’t be mowing the grass either,” he adds, “I used to mow my mother’s lawn until my mate mowing his mother’s lawn in his flip flips and Yep you’ve guessed! (He lost his toes). I stopped mowing grass then and have never done it since.”
“We are getting a composter too and we’ve talked about getting solar panels for the roof. We are quite good with environmental stuff really, we all recycle and we are changing to a green supplier.”
“Oh and after The Big Welsh Challenge (where Cerys Matthews coached Rhod to speak Welsh), I can now say ‘rwy’n mynd i’r ardd’ (I’m going in the garden). It won’t be long before I’m gardening in two languages!”
Gone To Pot
Most plastic flowerpots are made from polypropylene which few recycling outlets accept so I looked at http://www.world.org/ for some ideas of recycling them closer to home.
Fill partially with sand and use as an outdoor ashtray (covering the drainage holes first presumably!)
Use as a scoop for compost or pet food
Use for collecting chicken eggs or fruit and veg from the garden.
Use larger pots for storage - kids toys, rags, cleaning products
Use as waste paper bins (putting a plastic bag inside will recycle those too)
I have recently been impressed by an ingenious growing system that utilises vertical spaces such as walls and fences and is widely and successfully used in Italy and France. The Living Wall planting grids allow you to literally vertically plant a wall and create a whole new look for your plot. Once planted, the system is watered via a reservoir which drip feeds each compartment. For larger areas, a drip feed system is recommended and with a little tender loving care the results are quiet beautiful. Visit http://www.gardenerssupplycompany.com/ for more details and some inspirational photographs.
Did You Know?
This is the time of year that you can hear the cuckoo heralding the arrival of Spring. Folklore suggests that if you are standing on soft ground when you first hear the cuckoo, you will have good luck but if you are standing on hard ground then hard luck will follow.
Saturday, 19 April 2008
Some women get excited by shoes and handbags. For me it’s plants, so I was thrilled to find a new Nursery. When I say ‘new’, I mean new to me. The Dutch Nursery In Wales has been quietly indulging gardeners for nearly 30 years. Cwtched into the countryside just off the M4 at Cardiff Gate it is a plant-aholic’s paradise. No coffee shop, no gift section, no clothing just healthy, happy beautiful plants. And lots of them.
Owner Jap Deen is a Dutchman who has spent his whole life with plants and has a dry sense of humour. “If I wanted to run a coffee shop, I’d buy a cafe.” he says simply. “This is what I know, this is what I love, this is what I do. Plants are my life. I grew up in a horticultural family and was working in the Dutch bulb fields from a young age. As I grew up I wanted to better myself, so came to the UK and started landscaping. Then I bought this site and developed the Nursery. I think people should do one thing at a time and do it properly. Garden Centres try to do too much and now you even have Supermarkets buying garden centres . They have no experience of plants, they should stick to selling food”
Even more exciting is the fact his plants are cheap. Jap (pronounced Yap) takes that as a compliment, “We have three or four lorries from Holland in here every week. They have delivered to all the Garden Centres and then they come here last. I buy what they have left for what I want to pay. I get a good deal so the customer gets a good deal.”
“I used to drive my own lorry to Holland to buy plants from the nurseries and Auction Houses. The Auction House at Allesmere on the outskirts of Amsterdam is the biggest commercial building in the World. It could hold 55 soccer pitches. The plants are bought and traded like the Stock Market with buyers coming from all over the World. A million plants are sold every day. It’s not financially sensible for me to do that anymore. It’s cheaper and easier to get the plants to come to me now. That’s good business sense.”
I’m keen to learn from Jap’s knowledge and experience. “The secret of a good garden is the soil,” he explains. “ It has to be nice soil for the plants to be happy and do well. Good soil is nice to see and easy to maintain, you don’t need mulches and plastic covering it. You just work the hoe through it now and then. If you put plants into clay they don’t like it, it is hard work for the plants and for the gardener. Dig in chipped bark to loosen heavy clay soils, to get it workable. Sometimes it’s necessary to import new topsoil. You will never have a good garden with rubbish soil.”
“You have to manage a garden, especially plants and pruning is important. It’s complicated to know when and where to prune properly. You have to be brave. It takes Dutch courage!” He laughs.
Good with Wood
Wood Direct are on the same site as Yap’s Nursery and it’s an ideal opportunity to check out fence panels, sheds, decking and garden furniture while you are in the gardening mood. I also saw purpose built raised beds and a great children’s ‘den’ which has been designed to convert to a shed once the kids have got bored. I loved the Dancing Fern Screen (that will definitely be used in my own garden somewhere) and the folding benches. Contact Allan on 07736101128 for more details.
And to complete your gardening theme or project, pop next door into Paul’s Pond Supplies. As well as stocking everything you need a water feature, Paul stocks an impressive range of decorative stone and gravel. Contact Paul on 07841238192.
The RHS Spring Show is in all its glory at Bute Park, Cardiff Castle this weekend. As well as displaying inspirational show gardens and lots of plants, gifts and accessories to tempt the gardener, this year’s Show also hosts an owl sanctuary, street entertainers and lots of activities for children, ensuring a good day out for all the family.
Visit http://www.rhs.org/ for more details
Saturday, 12 April 2008
TV’s Celebrity diet specialist and therapist Marisa Peer is straight to the point, “ I’m not great at gardening but I am a big fan of vegetables and herbs. Broccoli, cabbage and sprouts are wonder foods. Avocados are ‘super food’ too. People should eat more greens. The problem stems from people being made to eat them when they are children and they have very negative memories associated with the food. It’s not the foods fault. Try these foods again as an adult and you’ll be surprised how good they can taste. Food is medicine. If you eat the right food you can start to feel better and healthier in only a few days. It really doesn’t take long to see the results in your body.”
Celebrity Fit Club’s nutritionalist continues, “Fresh coriander is one of the best things you can add to your food. It promotes the production of serotonin, the body’s natural ‘feel good’ chemical. If serotonin levels are low – and processed foods stop the body absorbing the chemical – it can trigger eating disorders, mood swings and depression, so coriander can make all the difference. Cinnamon is brilliant too – it can lower blood sugar and is great sprinkled on porridge. Chilli flakes and other hot spices will speed up your body’s metabolism and help you lose weight. I’ve put lots of simple tips like this in my book ‘You Can Be Thin’ and eating healthily will enable you to lose weight easily and naturally. I have got a lovely little herb garden at home and cut herbs most days, they’re so good for you. You can even grow them on a windowsill indoors of course”
“One thing everyone should have in their garden is an open tub of margarine.” She explains, “I have had one in my garden for 5 years and nothing grows on it and nothing eats it. It’s so bad for you – the ingredients are almost the same as plastic. Not even rats will go near it. I call it Frankenstein Food. You don’t even get mould growing on it – try it, even on an outdoor windowsill. People say ‘Oh, it’s ok, I never eat marg anyway’, but it’s in popcorn, ready meals, even Horlicks. It’s hidden in foods. Cornflakes and crackers never ever go mouldy – they’re Frankenstein Foods too. In the USA they have ‘museums’ for food that is 10 or 12 years old and it’s not gone mouldy or disintegrated in any way. It’s so full of chemicals.”
“My philosophy is if it grows or roams you can eat it. If you can hunt or harvest it, you can eat it. Anything else, just leave it alone. Mind you, I did have a client who asked, ‘not much grows or roams in Sloane Square, what should I eat?’ Honestly! It doesn’t have to grow or roam on your actual doorstep!” She explains impatiently.
“And why on Earth, when we do we buy organic fruit and vegetables from the stores, is it wrapped in so many layers of plastic? There’s no need for it. Plastic bags should be banned too. If they’re banned you can’t use them – it’s that simple. I love the way they double bag your groceries in the States in those wholesome paper bags. I am quite green – I try to make little changes in my life. I always shower instead of having a bath, I often turn the heating down a degree or two and am forever turning the lights off after my 18 year old daughter. I‘ve also stopped using the tumble dryer and am going to disconnect it so my daughter can’t either!”
Marisa’s daughter isn’t quite as green then? “Well, she’s not big into it to be honest but I do make her take her clothes to the Charity shop as a gesture toward recycling. Some of her friends are a bit over the top. They think it’s their responsibility to change the World. I think that’s a bit ambitious and really it would be better if we all started by taking responsibility for our own lifestyles.”
It’s easy to grow your own coriander crop and if you haven’t got a herb bed, the feathery leaves are attractive in a bed or border and the plant will reach about 2’, making it a good ‘gap filler’. It prefers a sunny site and doesn’t like being too wet but otherwise is fairly easy going. Sow seeds thinly at the end of the month and leave them to grow where you sow as seedlings don’t like being transplanted. Sowing at intervals will ensure a continuous crop and once the foliage had reached 8 -10 inches, regular cutting will encourage tasty new growth.
Did You Know?
- 17 billion plastic bags are handed out each year and the average person will accept 5 in a week.
- A recent scheme to reduce the use of supermarket plastic bags resulted in sales of bin liners increasing by 400%
- In 2002, Bangladesh was the first country to ban plastic bags as they were blocking drains and causing flooding during the monsoons. Closer to home, Modbury in Devon, was the first town in Europe to ban plastic bags from shops. One local said, ‘It’s considered anti-social behaviour to carry a plastic bag these days.’
Saturday, 5 April 2008
It’s hard to imagine the great Joe Calzaghie being less than amazing at anything but the first thing he tells me is, “Lynne, to be honest, I’m useless at gardening”.
Maybe the softly spoken undisputed Super Middle Weight Champion of the World is being modest. “You must do something in the garden?” I encourage him.
“I sit in the mower and cut the grass sometimes, but only if it’s dry. That’s even a bit therapeutic. I like nice grass, I like to see it nice and short and tidy. My kids have got their football goals on the lawn. I think a garden should be used not just looked at. My neighbours got a great garden, better than mine, it’s full of flowers and stuff. I haven’t got time for proper gardening.
That’s probably an understatement as Joe has been training intensely for 3 months for his big fight with Bernard Hopkins in Las Vegas on 19th April.
“I live and breathe my training,” he explains simply. “I’d like to have a proper garden one day,” he continues, “maybe I’ll get a proper gardener to do it. Are you free?” He teases.
“Do you mind if I start stretching while we chat?” the muscle bound boxer is incredibly polite. Enzo comes in with Joe’s tapes and tells me, “you should teach him to grow his own fruit, he eats so much in training.”
“It’s tricky, all that growing stuff Dad,” Joe shrugs, “ I only eat the fresh stuff though and all organic. The berries are best - raspberries, blueberries and strawberries, they’re full of vitamins and anti-oxidants. Bananas are really good for you too. Organic fruit tastes good and I don’t need all those chemicals in my body. Maybe I’ll grow my own stuff one day just not yet.”
What about vegetables? Shall I start designing a veg patch for him? “I don’t eat as much as I should,” he admits, “only broccoli and cauliflower really and lots of garlic. Dad taught me to cook so I’m a one trip pony in the kitchen, I do a really good pasta sauce.” He laughs.
“I probably could be a good gardener,” he says, “because I love the fresh air. I love the peace and quiet here in Wales, it lets me focus on training. I love the hills and valleys and the good air. It helps me deal with the pressures of fighting and Press conferences. I’ve got to go to the States two weeks before the fight, to acclimatise. It’s my first time in America and I’m nervous about training there. It’ll be harder, the air won’t be the same as Welsh air.”
He invites me to watch him train and I can’t resist asking if he gets nervous before a fight. “I get butterflies and a few nerves,” he admits “but never scared. You need nerves to keep you sharp. You have to turn nervous energy into positive energy. Positive thinking is a big thing. There are lots of mind games in boxing. You wouldn’t believe the things that are said before a fight to try and anger you. You can’t be angry in a fight, you’ve got to be cool and calm. You can win or lose before you get in the ring, depending on your mind set. I’m a Champion. I have been since I was 13. I believe 100% that I cannot be beaten.” And after watching him training in the ring with his Dad, I do too!
Berry Good For You
The blueberry is a heathland berry from North America. There are two types (as well as the cranberry), the Lowbush Blueberry which is really a fruit of the countryside and rarely cultivated and better known as the bilberry or winberry. I remember picking these as a child with Nan, and although not as prolific, they can still be found on some moorland and mountain tops. They make great pies or can be eaten fresh.
The Highbush Blueberry, or Blueberry for short, can be grown in pots or in the garden if the soil is suitable. They need moist, acidic soil and soft rainwater. If growing in pots then use ericaceous compost (and water from butts) or if azaleas and rhododendrons grow well in the garden, then blueberries will be happy there too. As well as healthy fruit you will also be rewarded with great autumn colour. Choose two or three year old container grown bushes for planting now.
Strawberry plants will soon be available in the Garden Centres and Nurseries and are always worth growing in containers on the patio even in window boxes and hanging baskets. They’re a great way to encourage little green fingers and some strawberry planters and pots will enable you to grow nearly 40 plants in a single container. Available from all good garden centres and DIY stores from £7.99 to £34.99 depending on size and quality.
Hubby and I saw Jean Michel Jarre in Concert last weekend and I was reminded that the cover of his famous Oxygene album is of a human skull nestled into a World Globe. See http://www.jeanmicheljarre.com/. It was designed to depict the fact that humans were destroying the Earth. Nothing new there – until you realise it was released thirty years ago – perhaps we should have taken more notice then!
Saturday, 29 March 2008
When I ask Stephen Terry how he wants to be introduced, he modestly says “Pub Chef I s’pose, and Proprietor of The Hardwick,” (a Country Pub near Abergavenny). He is in fact a Michelin Star Chef, has worked with Marco Pierre White and earlier this week, won a regional heat which means he will now represent Wales in the prestigious BBC Competition, The Great British Menu. Competing against 6 of the Country’s top chefs Stephen admits, “I am really proud to represent my adopted Nation but I have been around long enough and cooking for long enough that I should be good at it! I’m passionate about what I do – that’s how you get good at anything.”
You can see Stephen in action on BBC 2 every weeknight next week at 6.30 pm and visit www.thehardwick.co.uk for more details including how to vote in the final. “It is an intense process,” he tells me. “The competition demonstrates modern British Cookery – the Chef’s have to be innovative and presentation of the dish is important, obviously. It’s all a bit fussy to be honest. In contrast, the philosophy of The Hardwick is all about the quality of ingredients and the dishes being seasonally led. I always find the ingredients first and then make the dish for the menu. We have great local produce and I am as loyal and committed to using them as I can be. Sometimes you can’t actually source a product locally so I end up ordering it from Covent Garden Market, only to find out that it originally came from just up the road. That’s crazy. A lot of Italian stock, like broad beans are ready earlier but I’d rather wait and get them from local suppliers. We are using fantastic forced Yorkshire rhubarb at the moment, it’s delicious and we’ll soon be having asparagus from Evesham, that’s grown under poly-tunnels so it’s available earlier.
A customer said to me the other night, ‘That spinach tasted amazing,’ I told him, “I’m glad but I’m the one did the least to it!”
Is Stephen ever tempted to grow his own veg? “All I know about gardening begins with ‘Naff’ and ends in ‘all’,” he laughs. “Given a chance I could do it – I am creative and creative people can be creative in any area. You need a few lessons on the subject but creativity and passion will get you there.”
“I haven’t got any knowledge about gardening but I can see if something needs doing. I’ll go out and scrape the weeds up from the car park and I’ve cut the hedge back with secateurs ‘cos I didn’t have any shears. It’s important to have the right tools. I’ve got all the right ‘toys’ in my kitchen and you haven’t, so it’s going to be easier for me!”
Stephen tells me how much he loves the countryside, the scenery, the fresh air, watching the wildlife in his back garden with his little girls, Phoebe and Olivia and how he loves the fact people toot and give him the thumbs up when he runs, “You can’t buy any of that,” he explains softly. Then, upping the tempo and in his endearing, forthright manner Stephen has a little rant, “I tell you what is annoying here though is that I can’t get a bottle bank. I have to drive into town with all the bottles– it takes ages and the wine left in the bottles spills in the car – it drives me nuts. I’ve asked the Council again and again but keep getting excuses. The last one was ‘we are rearranging the Department, could you call back?’ I don’t care what their rearranging – all I want is a bottle bank! Paper is also difficult, we print menus twice a day and get through loads of paper – it’s no good just telling people to recycle, it has to be easy, you have to get things right, people are busy. We are busy, this job is an all consuming beast. Jo (my wife) and I are fully committed to it, to using the right produce and to our customers. If we weren’t we wouldn’t be where we are now.”
Walk For Life
All across Wales tomorrow (30th March) people will be pulling on their walking boots to raise awareness of Kidney Disease in Wales. Coordinated by the Kidney Wales Foundation, this year’s event aims to raise £100,000 as Communities organise and participate in over 30 ‘local’ walks throughout Wales. This year’s Ambassador Colin Jackson, is encouraging everyone to don their trainers and make a difference to such a worthwhile Charity. All the Walks are open to everybody and your support will be greatly appreciated - just turn up on the day. I will be striding out at Cardiff Bay with comedian Rhod Gilbert, so come and join us if you can at St David’s Hotel & Spa at 11am. For more details visit www.kidneywales.com or call 02920 343940
Sales of lawnmowers are traditional at their highest over Easter, though I’m not sure that will have been the case this year. If you are still in the market for a new machine, have a look at the Robotic options. Not practical for every garden admittedly but if they do fit your plot and your budget, you’ll save a few hours walking behind a mower during the season. A low voltage electric cable fixed to the perimeter of the garden keeps the machine within your boundaries and they will run for three to four hours before recharging themselves. There are several models on the market and even the most basic will cope with areas of 400 sq yards and slopes of 30 degrees. Obstacles like trees and washing lines simply result in the machine realigning itself and continuing on its merry way.
Check out www.greenandeasy.co.uk , www.gardencut.co.uk or www.mower-magic.co.uk or larger DIY stores and Garden Centres.
Did You Know?
April is thought to have derived from the Latin word ‘aperire’ meaning ‘to open’. It is indeed the month where shiny new green leaves can be seen unfurling and opening up as the days lengthen and warm up.
Sunday, 23 March 2008
TV presenter, actress and author Julie Peasgood recently won the Best Sex Writer Award for her book ‘Greatest Sex Tips in the World’ and as a consequence is currently the resident ‘Sexpert’ on the Alan Titchmarsh Show. “Funnily enough,” she explained, “I wrote the book as a result of filming a Gardening programme with Steve Brooks . He told me about a publishing company he had set up called thegreatestintheworldltd.com. He had written the Greatest Gardening Tips himself and had commissioned other titles on golf, travel. Yoga etc. I jokingly asked who had written the Greatest Sex Tips? And he said ‘no one yet – how did I fancy doing it ?’.
“I laughed it off at first then, after the third Gin and Tonic, agreed. After reading 32 books on sex, attending loads of seminars, interviewing friends and testing all sorts of ‘toys’ (our local Postie thought it was all hilarious!) I got the book together and won the Award which I am thrilled about.”
I met Julie when we both worked on Turf Wars a couple of years ago and wondered if she was still ‘gardening’ as well as, other things...
“Yes, I love gardening, as you know,” she laughed, “though I’m still not very good at it. We have a lovely Holiday Cottage that we let out in Cornwall so we have a gardener there, Liz Watson (we call her ‘busy Lizzie) to help us keep it tidy. My husband says he can always tell if Lizzie has planted something or if I have. If Lizzie has, it’s all nice and neat and done properly but if I do, the plant is always on a sort of tump. I HATE digging holes and I don’t dig very deep – I always think, ‘Crumbs I can’t dig anymore’ and the plant ends up on top of a mound of soil.”
“My favourite plants are the fragrant ones, like jasmine, honeysuckle, stargazer lilies (though I don’t grow those)and roses. And I love naturalised daffodils. I don’t like just green or desert type stuff. And I hate digging,” she reminds me.
“My Mum was the most green-fingered person ever and even grew an avocado plant from a stone. She was wonderful and me and my brother have happy early memories of watching things grow. We had our own veg plot from about 7 years old and grew potatoes, carrots and tomatoes. I learnt at a young age just how much pleasure gardening and growing things can bring. My Mum also recycled before the word was invented; I remember her tying up old bean sticks with her old tights.”
Has Julie inherited her Mother’s commitment to the environment? “Patrick (my husband) and I are avid recyclers and he soon pulls me up if I don’t wash out a Marmite jar! I am absolutely thrilled that it’s all now mainstream news – it’s a bit late in the day but we can still all do our bit to lighten our carbon footprints. I love walking, and always walk wherever I can, and only drive a small car – it’s so small I look like Noddy on speed driving it. We have just managed to get our Council to collect plastic bottle after continuous campaigning. It’s great to get a result and goes to show if you push hard enough and shout load enough, Councils will eventually listen!
Saturday, 15 March 2008
World renowned musician Peter Gabriel is also Head of Real World Records, the Founder of WOMAD, a Human Rights Activist and MIDEM’s Personality of the Year. Despite hobbling around after breaking a leg on a ski-ing trip early this year, he is still incredibly busy and difficult to catch up with.
“I was introduced to gardening when I was about 6 years old,” he recalls, “my sister Anne and I each had a small patch to plant up in our parent’s garden, between the swing and the house!”
“I can’t remember what we planted, probably annuals I think, but I enjoyed it then and I still do, though obviously I had more time at that young age. I love the wild English style gardening – the natural look. I love weaving willow too, it’s therapeutic and it looks so good.”
“I love to share my garden. The garden is a part of the whole living space. I don’t like to distinguish between house and garden. I am very much a people person and have always been interested in what people do. I have a real sense of wonder at what they are doing and get enthusiastic for them!”
Peter headlined Hyde Park Calling and WOMAD last year, fitting the rest of his tour around the concerts. They are very important to me,” he explained, “We asked people to submit, via our website, what they wanted to hear and the sets were planned around their preferences. It’s important to involve people and to give them a voice.”
Has gardening ever influenced his music? “Of course,” he laughs. “ When I was with Genesis we did a track called Return of the Giant Hogweed and how it was taking over the World! The video for “Eve” featured beautiful scenes from Stourhead and “Don’t Give Up” was written as a result of an American crop failure – it’s about the drought and the plight of the farmers. Nature has a huge influence on everything, music included.”
“That’s why we should have more respect for it and the environment. There are a lot of good things happening but we need to keep on. By speeding up the development of SCiB, battery technology will soon be good enough for the development of electric cars and planes. That would really make a difference.”
In 1999, Peter also instigated the formation of a new group of World Leaders known as the Elders . “Richard (Branson)and I thought there should be a new gathering of ‘Elders’, like traditional village elders, that would come together to guide and support our ‘global village’. The result is powerful group of people who have nothing to prove and who can speak freely and boldly. Their only agenda is for humanity. They believe that despite the awful things that are happening globally, all human beings are made for goodness.”
“I’m currently working on the music for a new Pixar movie called WALL -E, about a robot and waste alleviation – it’s very funny and will also raise awareness of the rubbish we generate. We can’t afford to relax about getting these messages across.”
Talking of relaxing, how does Peter Gabriel relax? He has earned a worldwide reputation for his innovative work as a musician, writer and video maker. When at school he co-founded the group Genesis, which he left in 1975. His albums, live performance and videos since then have won him a succession of awards. “I’ll let you into a secret,” he says, “Wales is where I relax. I love the tranquillity and peace of the Welsh countryside. My sister lives in Wales and I have been lucky enough to take my family there for the last two Christmases. The wonderful combination of family, fun and fresh air is what relaxation is about for me.”