Saturday, 29 March 2008

As March ends Lynne talks to Top Chef Stephen Terry

Top Talk
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 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 or call 02920 343940

Mowing Magic
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 , or 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

Julie Peasgood

Top Talk
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 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!

Easter Monday

Easter Monday is also known as Hop Monday. Probably best known for their association with beer, hops are the flowers of the female plants and appear amongst the light green foliage from July to September. The hop plant, Humulus Lupulus is a perennial and will need to be cut back each winter, however once established, the vigorous climber will easily clothe trellis-work, camouflage sheds or brightening up a mixed hedge in a single growing season and as a result, is one of my favourites.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Lynne discusses the envionment with Rock Legend Peter Gabriel

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.”

Llangattock School and Community Education Trust

I went to Llangattock Church in Wales School as a child and ironically returned years later to maintain the school grounds. So it was a pleasure to go back and to see the changes that have been made more recently.
Having been allocated a grant from Llangattock Community Education Trust, the Children’s School Council (consisting of 11 pupils aged between 6 and 11) were consulted and it was decided unanimously that the funds should be spent on improving the School grounds. Acting Head, Hayley Smith explained, “We wanted to enhance children’s play within the natural environment and any improvements had to blend with the surroundings. We have created the facilities for imaginative play which also includes the children being able to take a few risks as they tackle the balancing beam, the zip wire and the climbing walls” (..... all of which are situated over deep spongy safety bark!) “As well as these play areas, the school grounds now boasts an outdoor amphitheatre, full disabled access, a Celtic Knot Garden and maze , vegetable beds, (pupils harvested the veg last year and made cawl), herb gardens that supply the school kitchen, compost bins, and a substantial Pond and conservation area.”
Incredibly all the improvements were carried out by parents, friends and local businesses. The pupils also had an enormous input into the development of their outdoor space and subsequently formed an ‘eco-club’. Pupils Michael and Adam even created the school’s own Eco–Code.
The pupils have also created their own school rules, referred to as ‘Give Me 5’. The five key points are, RESPECT – everyone everything, everywhere; UNDERSTAND our differences; LISTEN to adults and each other; ENVIRONMENT- take care of it; SHARE with others not just friends. Hayley explained, “The first letter of each point spells out ‘RULES’ and was totally devised by the children. The fact that we have Respect and Environment in there, shows how important these things are to the pupils. We are already at the silver award stage of the Eco-Schools programme and are aiming to have Green Flag status by the end of the year.”
Before I left, I spoke School Council and learnt just how important outdoor play, Nature and taking care of the environment was to them. Harry told me ‘My Dad works for the Environmental Agency. We recycle everything and grow all our own vegetables. They taste much better than the ones from the shops.” Recycling was considered to be one of the most important issues and a big cause of frustration. Zoe was annoyed that her older sister wouldn’t recycle. Ryan pointed out that his family were still waiting for their recycling bins to be delivered and added “We should recycle wherever we are as well, not just at home or in school.” Emily added, “We always reuse our plastic bags and cardboard boxes and recycle what we can’t reuse.”
Jos was disappointed that it’s nearly March and we haven’t had any snow – “that’s because of Global Warming “he added. Holly enjoyed creating jumps in her garden for her dog and also made sure her friends didn’t tread on worms and Lloyd said, “After watching Life on Earth on TV I had to remind my sister to be nice to animals.”
For me probably the most poignant thing that was raised was the ‘sanctuary’ element that a garden can provide. Without exception every pupil had a ‘secret space’ or ‘den’ that was very precious to them. Carian told me, “I go to my den when I feel grumpy and I go and calm down. And it’s a safe place for me and my friends to tell secrets.” Josquin uses his den to hide things that are private and Georgie said, “I’ve got a camouflage shed and my rabbit and painting easel are in there. I go there whenever my brothers annoy me.” But perhaps Ryan summed it up best when he said, “I love the zip slide and all the play equipment but if I don’t feel like running around and playing it’s also really good to just sit and relax and just to be quiet.”

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Thoughts of the week

I met TV personality and columnist, Sharon Marshall(pictured) while I was training ‘recruits’ at an Army style Boot Camp recently. As we walked together on a midnight mountain trek, she told me about her garden.
“I’ve only got a garden because I have a cat. It’s an absolute wilderness. I have no idea what to do with it.” Sharon admitted. “My Mum has a huge garden at home in Lincolnshire and she’s a brilliant gardener. I bought her a lovely posh pair of leather gardening gloves from Fortnum & Mason for Mother’s Day but she said they were too good for gardening and wore them to the family Christening instead. I’ve told her the next time I’m home I want to see them dirty and full of thorns.”
“I haven’t inherited her gardening skills, (I got the cooking skills instead). Here in London, I just kill everything. I had the flat Feng Shui’d and put a Money Plant in the Wealth corner but I had to throw it out a couple of weeks ago ‘cos it died ... along with a Yucca Plant that was placed in my Creative corner . That died too. I’ve decided that I’m going to get plastic ivy now and let Mum arrange it with her new gloves. I get frustrated because I don’t know anything. I even took my two houseplants into the Gardening Expert on This Morning to fix but even with professional help, I still managed to kill them.”
“I’d like my garden to be an adventure for the cat, Merlot (as in the wine) to play hide and seek. I’d like to have a nice area to be able to eat out in instead of trotting over to the park for a picnic and I’d like lots of big, clipped shrubs and bushes that weren’t too posh – just nice, a bit like an Edward Scissorhand garden.”
Does she enjoy the outdoors then? “Definately!” She refers to the Army-style training we are doing in the Brecon Beacons and confides, “Before I came to Wales, I didn’t even own a flat pair of shoes and the only coat I had was a blue velvet Vivian Westwood. I had to go and spend a fortune in Millets! My asthma is already better,” she continues, “ and I do love the fresh Welsh air. In London, I run along the Thames or picnic in the Parks but you’ve always got a face full of fumes! I’ve become a bit of a soft-Southener now and would rather do Pilates in heated studios.”
Sharon goes on, “There’s a gardening tip in the book I’ve written with Tara Palmer Thompkinson, (The Naughty Girl’s Guide to Life.) It’s full of tips on how to cope with Life’s little hiccups and grenades, you know, if your boss is a swine to you or if your fella dumps you,” she explains.
And the gardening tip? “Nip out in the middle of the night with a bottle of weed-killer and write an obscenity on their lawn,” she laughs, “it takes a while to show in the grass, so they’re really surprised!”
Has she actually done that? “Of course – all the tips are tried and tested. Luckily my ex thought it was funny too.” As we reach the top of the mountain and look down on the little lights of the towns and villages, it seems a good time to ask if she cares about the Environment? “I cycle, walk or take the bus when I’m in London. No-one can afford to use a car there anymore anyway, thanks to Ken Livingstone , so we are all forced into reducing our carbon footprints. My carbon stiletto print is tiny!” She grins, “which reminds me, I must buy a pair of Stella McCartney’s vegetarian knee high boots when I get back – that’ll help won’t it?”

‘Good Luck’ Gardening
Feng Shui is an ancient Oriental method of divining good and bad forces. Plants can be used to bring good chi, or energy, into the house or office space. Each room should have one good sized plant in it to freshen energy and cleanse the atmosphere and as Sharon said, placing certain plants in specific places can enhance different areas of your life. Similarly, a vase of pink flowers in the bedroom can improve romance, chrysanthemums will bring happiness and laughter and the narcissus will encourage good fortune. Round leaved plants increase harmony and good energy but spikey plants can produce negative energy.
Did You Know?
The narcissus (daffodil) is also known as the ‘Lent Lily’ as its blooms in Spring with the flowers usually dropping before Easter. Narcissus comes from the Greek for ‘numbness’ which refers to the narcotic properties of the plant.
If you put cut daffodils into water with a few drops of food colouring the dye will be taken up the stem and into the flower-head producing a ‘bespoke bloom’.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Lynne's thoughts for the start of March

Every year the daffodils are coming out earlier and earlier – it’s like they just can’t wait for spring. Dad used to say it was unusual to pick a daffodil for St David’s Day from the garden – now some people claim to have picked one on Christmas Day! I travelled down to Newbridge a couple of weeks ago and was amazed to see drifts of daffodils full out on the side of the road – they’re obviously a little shyer locally!
Snowdrops are also a welcomed sign that spring is about to, well ‘spring’. If you’re lucky enough to have a white carpet (or even a rug) in your garden, I’ll bet someone has asked for a few. Remember they move best while still ‘in the green’ or before the goodness returns back into the bulb. They are quite stubborn little things though and it can be difficult to establish them somewhere that they don’t want to be! It is illegal to remove them from hedgerows and woodlands so don’t be tempted to ‘relocate’ these.
With Easter being in March this year, we get an early start in the garden. Statistics show that most people actually ease back into the garden during the Easter break and it’s no coincidence that the accident and emergency department at Neville Hall is busier at this time too. Remember prevention is better than cure and treat machinery, plants and tools with respect. Always use a circuit breaker with electric machinery and if you haven’t got one – ask for one as an Easter present, it’ll be far better for you than another chocolate egg.
If you only do one thing in the garden this month – plant some early potatoes – you’ll be so glad that you did when you are harvesting them early in June. They’ll be quite happy in pots on the patio, so there’s no excuse and many garden centres are now stocking ‘kits’ and even special potato grow bags too. Choose an ‘early’ variety of potato (like Rocket, Swift or Maris Bard) and leave to chit (or sprout) on a windowsill before planting out at the middle of the month. ‘Chitting’ just gives them a head start really, commercial growers don’t bother. In 100-110 days they will be ready to be eaten. Some gardeners don’t rate ‘earlies’ as they don’t store very well but in my own experience, they are so delicious, storing is never even an option!

Saturday, 1 March 2008

St David's Day

Gardening is Good for You
Horticultural Therapy is a practice that explores how gardening heals emotionally and physically. There is an old saying “you can bury a lot of troubles digging in the dirt”.
Research shows that gardening provides a form of emotional expression and release and helps people to connect with others. The psychological advantages of working in the fresh air and sunshine are also beneficial.
One study concluded “Those who are involved with gardening find life more satisfying and feel they have more positive things happening in their lives”. That’s a healthy attitude.

Did You Know?
Gardening is the second most popular form of exercise in Canada; second only to walking.

Happiest Day?
Wales-based psychologist Cliff Arnall hit the headlines with his formula for finding the Happiest Day of the Year. The factors used to calculate the date (24th June this year) included being outdoors, social interaction, flowering gardens, temperature, elements of nature and childhood memories. Cliff Arnall commented, “Happiness is associated with many things in life ... whether it’s a sunny day, a flowering garden or a childhood memory. I wanted my formula to prove the key to happiness really can be that simple.”
Personally, having the cheerful disposition of a passionate gardener, outdoors most of the time and fuelled by fresh air, I say “treat every day as though it’s your happiest – and one day you’ll be right!”

St David’s Day Daffodil
I remember Dad saying that as a child he was lucky if he could pick a daffodil out of his garden to take to school on St David’s Day – now, as the seasons change, you could probably pick one on Boxing Day!