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A fairytale evening with Debenhams

It’s a Thursday evening in London at 6pm. I’m sweating profusely under my bright orange velvet suit after running frantically to make my train. I squeeze through the closing doors, desperately hoping the wide-leg style doesn’t get trapped as they close. Ripping off my jacket in this -4° weather receives numerous odd looks, as if I’m trying to seduce the mid-fifties man opposite me by fanning my sweaty, unshaven armpit in his face. ‘Sorry’ I say, ashamedly. He doesn’t look up.

I’m off out on an evening with Debenhams*, and despite the disastrous start, I’m so exceedingly excited I might actually wee. Let’s hope not, eh. I’m meeting a crew of other bloggers to watch Florence and the Machine at the o2 in a box (yes, you read correctly, a BOX). Not only that, I’ve also picked out the orange, velvet and now slightly damp suit I’m wearing from Debenhams.

Once on the Jubilee Line, I realise that I stand out like a sore thumb. Especially amid all the grey suit-wearing city workers at Canary Wharf. I suddenly doubt my fashion choices and regret picking an outfit that a) means I can’t stand at the back and pretend to be socially inept, b) only women such as Heidi Klum should wear and c) makes me look like an Oompa Loompa on steroids. I text my boyfriend ‘I feel stupid :(’ covering my phone with my chewed fingernails so over-the-shoulder-lookers on the tube don’t see. ‘I thought you looked great! Even rushing around and sweaty!’ he replies.

One stop away from North Greenwich, I decide there’s nothing else to do but own it. I’m going to strut into the o2 like I’m Naomi bloody Campbell, and then find a quiet corner to remove scruffy trainers and change into heels…

I don’t know what it is about heels, but as soon as I’ve got them on I feel like my alter ego comes out. A bit like Beyoncé’s Sasha Fierce, or Paul O’Grady’s Lily Savage. I stride confidently over to the gate where I announce proudly ‘I’m here with Debenhams, to sit in a BOX’. ‘Ok love,’ the woman replies, ‘we just want to take a look inside your bag’. Disappointing.

Once inside, a kind man named Davide leads me to the other bloggers. Explaining that I don’t wear heels regularly, I apologise for tottering behind him so slowly. ‘Tottering?’ he exclaims, ‘What is tottering?’ I explain, and due to his olive skin and European accent, I ask him where he’s from, ‘Deptford’ he replies.

The minute I see the other bloggers, I’m met with sequin skirts, silver boots, and satin dresses. What a relief. There are burgers and chips and cheesecake and everyone is chatting about whether it’s better to have your instagram profile as a business or personal account. I feel instantly relaxed. We take photos of one another like we’re old friends, sipping wine and filming boomerangs as we go. 

I’ve seen Florence a few times. Once at Reading Festival when she first became a ‘thing’, and once at Ally Pally when she became more of a ‘thing’. I feel quietly proud that I know all her songs and am v grateful to Debenhams that we’re seeing her and not Boyzone or one of the other crap o2 listings (yes ok Boyzone had some bangers, but come on: Florence > Boyzone).

Florence is an ethereal woodland nymph, running around frantically in a sheer, pale green-coloured dress. Barefoot, of course. It’s always odd when singers speak between songs and Florence is no exception. She has a small, child-like voice that seems strange compared to her warbling, empowered vocals. As she throws herself into Ship to Wreck, I actually worry that she might be over-doing the running around bit and am relieved when she stops for water (reason no. 1 for why I am a mum**).

I am seriously considering packing in my gym-membership and buying a wafty 70s dress to run around the house in. I’m sure it would do me more good than running on a treadmill for half an hour watching Loose Women.

She comes back on stage for the encore. The familiar lyrics of Shake it Out fill the 20,000 capacity o2 arena and that is my cue to leave. Mainly because I’ve seen her perform it live before but also because I’ve already experienced one over-crowded tube this evening and I’m not overjoyed about the prospect of another one (reason no. 2 for why I am a mum).

After saying goodbye to all my new blogger friends and the wonderful Debenhams crew, I leave the o2 feeling extremely fortunate and full of wine. My Cinderella evening is coming to an end and I take off my silver heels and put my muddy trainers back on. Someone’s been sick in my train carriage and I do the incredibly British thing of staying exactly where I am for fear of being impolite. I suddenly panic and wonder if it’s all been a dream. Did I really see Florence and the Machine at the o2? Or have I just been sat on this stinking sick train for 2 hours? I flick my camera on. I feel like the girls who captured the Cottingley Fairies, because there she is, a tiny figure, a distant memory, a minute, mid-air, Florence and the Machine.

*This experience was complimentary for the purpose of review. See disclaimer for more details.

**not a real one, obvs. 

 

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Laura Ashley The Tea Room at the Burnham Beeches Hotel

It’s one of those Autumn days where you’re not sure whether you need an umbrella, SPF or a pair of highly-insulated snow boots. We take a risk and drive to Burnham Beeches in the hope of going on an instagram-worthy autumn walk. As we drive down the country lanes, the sun decides to poke its weary head out of the looming clouds just at the moment we pass the Burnham Beeches Hotel.

“There it is! There it is!” my mum and I squeal in excitement, simultaneously regretting having such a big breakfast this morning. We’re off for afternoon tea in the new Laura Ashley tea room* and I’m mainly excited because not once in my 26 years on this earth have I been out for afternoon tea with my mum.

We drive down leafy lanes named ‘Pumpkin Hill’ and ‘Dove House Crescent’ and I feel like I’m in an American musical; any minute now my mum will burst into song about cake and tea and how ‘she longs to visit England in the fall’.

We arrive at Burnham Beeches, a scenic nature reserve populated with dog-walkers, bike-riders and instagrammers. Optimistically I jump out the car shoving my walking boots on and preparing for a hefty hike through the woodland (gotta make room for the cake). The beech trees are spectacular and as the breeze blows through the trees, tiny yellow leaves twinkle back and forth, reminiscent of a disco ball in a night club.

I actually felt more worthy of a visit to the Burnham Beeches hotel now knowing what the Burnham Beeches were and I was ready to have all the finger sandwiches and posh slices of cake.

We’re greeted by Fernando, the Deputy Manager of the hotel, who leads us to what he calls ‘his baby’: the brand new Laura Ashley tea room. It’s a muted pink with a dark wood floor, glass chandeliers and pristine white table cloths. We’re seated next to a sash window overlooking the front lawn. We order tea and prosecco, my two favourite liquids.

As we’re admiring the Laura Ashley teapots on display in a dresser, we’re presented with a tiny chocolate bonfire! Chocolate truffle logs, matchstick biscuits and white chocolate flames make up the sweetest novelty amuse bouche I’ve ever had the good fortune to eat. As a savoury gal, however, I can’t stop thinking about the egg and cress brioche buns that are about to grace our table. I practically salivate over Fernando, poor bloke, as he brings over a three-tiered cake stand adorned with scones, tarts, delices and bavaroises. The scones are light, the sandwiches fresh and the rose bavaroise fluffy.

I think my biggest flaw as a human being is my stomach. It’s just not big enough. I desperately want to taste a tiny rosemary and pumpkin cake, but for fear of being sick in my mum’s Skoda I refrain from trying it and just stare at it instead, wide-eyed and longingly. I somehow manage to finish my prosecco though, why don’t we ever get full of wine? One of life’s great mysteries.

Without hesitation Fernando offers to box-up the rest of our sweet treats and I contemplate how I’m going to hide the box from my dad when I get home.

Usually I find with an afternoon tea, there’s an element missing. The tea’s cold or the service is slow, but not at the Burnham Beeches Hotel. The room is warm, the service was outstanding and the food, faultless.

I leave feeling happy and full. Stuffed like a turkey and unable to eat another morsel. That is, until I get home and polish off another scone and an apple and cinnamon tart.

*This afternoon tea was complimentary for the purpose of review. See disclaimer for more details.

 

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A Grape and Grain tour: the Surrey Hills

It’s 10 o’clock on a bright autumnal Saturday and I’m waiting outside Guildford Station trying to spot a luxury minibus and a gaggle of people that look like keen drinkers. I’m off on a Grape and Grain tour*, transported through the Surrey Hills in said minibus stopping along the way at a distillery, a brewery and a vineyard. Fortunately a hearty pub lunch is also arranged so I don’t have the worry of crawling home intoxicated full of regret for not having lined my tender little stomach. I spot a friendly face that I discover is Joel, our tour guide and owner of the Grape and Grain tours, and we pile onto the minibus ready for an exciting day of tasting.

I generally find tour guides annoying. They say the same spiel, in the same way, with the same jokes and you’re meant to laugh along and state your name and a fun fact about yourself. But Joel is wonderful. He’s not an actor trying to earn a quick buck doing walking tours round Dublin – he’s genuinely passionate about what he does.

First stop, the Silent Pool Distillery in Albury. A small gin distillery tucked away in farmland and onsite of the legendary ‘Silent Pool’. Joel, previously a distiller at Silent Pool, describes the process in which the gin is made as we sip away, letting our tastebuds encounter the variety of botanicals. Bottles are bought, and we’re back on the minibus, feeling ever so slightly inebriated (well maybe just those of us who haven’t had breakfast… whoops!).

The Tillingbourne Brewery is tucked away in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and as you drive along the country road approaching it, the Surrey Hills views are absolutely stunning. A distinctive smell of hops washes over us as we pull up to the tiny brewery, steam billowing out the roof. ‘Don’t worry about that,’ yells Steve, the owner of the brewery, ‘Lee’s new to brewing, last week it was pouring out into the gutters!’

I’ve barely sat down and I’ve a pint of ‘Falls Gold‘ in my hand. Steve chats away to us explaining the difference between ale and lager and telling us that they’ve been supplying The Oval. I’m so absorbed in the story about the ‘Dormouse’ beer, brewed in conjunction with the Surrey Wildlife Trust to protect the habitat of the Hazelnut Dormice, I’m unaware that my glass has been topped up regularly and I’ve tried 3 different beers! I clamber merrily onto the bus taking in the blissful surroundings and thinking about a) how beautiful Surrey is b) how much I love beer and c) how I can’t wait for the chicken and leek pie I’ve preordered for lunch.

And what a wonderful pie it was! The Queen’s Head is a traditional little pub in East Clandon with a classic pub menu and low beams that my boyfriend was constantly hitting his head on (he’s 6’4″ – the perils of being tall lol). Feeling full post-pub, we’re off on the minibus again to our final destination: Greyfriars Vineyard.

Firstly, who knew that there was a vineyard in Surrey (not me) and secondly who knew that English Sparkling wine was so PENG (also not me). It definitely helped that it was the most glorious day, but when I was strolling through the vines with a glass of Non Vintage Cuvée in hand, I honestly could’ve been in the South of France. The vineyards are beautiful and the wine is superb. After a few tasting glasses of Vintage Cuvée, Non-Vintage Fumé and Sparkling Rosé, I was very happy to return to our luxury minibus for the final time and soak up the wonderful Surrey surroundings.

The Grape and Grain tour is a wonderful excursion for a group of friends, a couple, or you can even book privately if you’re a stag or hen do group or wanting to arrange a family outing! I learnt so much about what it takes to produce our favourite beverages, you get a fantastic pub lunch and a more-than-adequate amount of alcohol across the day.

You can book a Grape and Grain tour now by clicking here. 

*This tour was complimentary for the purpose of review. See disclaimer for full details.

 

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5 Reasons to go to Petersham Nurseries in Covent Garden

Petersham Nurseries is a green idyll in Covent Garden; a wonderful flash of green in central London! Having been desperate to visit the new Covent Garden branch since it opened, the atmosphere, service and menu certainly didn’t disappoint. Here are 5 reasons why you absolutely must go:

1. There are flowers in your drink

Can you imagine my little face when the Walled Garden cocktail came complete with little baby carnations? I could’ve cried with happiness. Flowers in ma drink make me a happyyyy woman. In fact flowers in ma anything make me a happy woman. (nothing weird though, obvs)

2. There are 2 restaurants for all your food needs

Choose between La Goccia or The Petersham depending on the occasion. Both menus look DELISH so we went for La Goccia, the more casual of the two, but I’ll definitely be heading back to The Petersham for the Roast Florence fennel with braised greens, summer tomatoes and parmesan mmmmmm…

3. They serve 6 different types of courgette

SIX. SIX, I tell you! If you follow me on instagram, you’ll know about my love for courgettes. This year I’ve attempted to grow them from seed and I’m finally having success, yay! But that’s one variety… Petersham Nurseries serve SIX. I didn’t even know there were six different varieties of courgette?! But bloody hell, each and every one of them was glorious. Especially the little, tender yellow one!

4. There’s a hidden courtyard

Go through the shop, past the florist stand, into the restaurant and out through the French doors and you’ll find Floral Court. Ferns hide in every corner and you’re shaded by magnolia trees as you eat your meal. Right in the middle of central London. What a way to live.

5. There are plants everywhere, even on the backs of the chairs

The plant pot on the table is becoming pretty standard in hip hangouts in London, but Petersham Nurseries always seem to be ahead of the rest. Along with the classic terracotta pots on every table, there’s a wrought iron tree design in the back of the chairs which is stunning, sophisticated and won’t be spotted in any other restaurant around town. Call me obsessed, but it’s the details that matter, and these chairs couldn’t reflect Petersham Nurseries more. Seriously tho, where can I buy these chairs?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Evening with Plymouth Gin

 

An evening with Plymouth Gin. Could a better sentence ever be spoken?

Dotted with elegant grey planters filled with pretty pink begonias, the Plymouth Gin Garden bar at The Wigmore was the perfect setting for a summer’s evening cocktail masterclass. A long table was set with test tubes, pipettes, funnels and decanters – reminiscent of Miss Crispin’s year 8 science class where my friend Hayley Cropper set fire to her eyebrows. Obviously no eyebrows were harmed at The Wigmore, and it was much more fun than learning about magnesium. Mainly because – gin.

We were given a tasting map to work out which of the botanicals were our favourites. We sniffed lemon peel, orange peel, cardamom pods, juniper berries and coriander seeds, all of which form the basis of Plymouth Gin. But blah, blah, blah, sniff as much as you want, we all know that I was there for the TASTING. Like any spirit, on an initial sip, it tasted like alcohol. But, with a little water added, I was surprised to taste the actual botanicals I’d spent the last 10 mins sniffing!

When it came to making our own gin I was convinced I was going to be a perfectionist. I wanted to mix the exact proportion of distilled lemon peel, with the right quantity of orris root (a binding agent) complemented with a tinyyyy dash of distilled coriander. But then I watched my boyfriend sloshing a bit of this and a bit of that all over the bloody place and that looked much more fun. The point is guys, I made my own Plymouth Gin!

I don’t know how I’ve got this far and NOT mentioned the lab coats – omg. We got to wear lab coats, with Plymouth Gin on the back, and I felt like an actual distiller, if that’s a job, I don’t even know, but basically: lab coats.

I’m not sure this is possible, but learning about it actually made me like Plymouth Gin even more. It was so interesting hearing about how it’s produced and now I desperately want to visit Plymouth and do a distillery tour. But only if I can wear a lab coat again and taste some more gin.

 

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Photo Diary: My Best Friend’s Farm Wedding

My beautiful best friend got married recently, on her farm, in a true country-wedding style.

We drank champagne on hay bails, I had gysophila in my hair, and the married couple left on a tractor! It couldn’t have been more perfect for Hannah, who’s lived on a farm since she was born. My favourite touch was the wellies filled with wildflowers that lined the marquee, and for the wedding breakfast we even ate a ploughmans.

I’ve shared some photos below because I couldn’t resist you seeing what a gorgeous day it was.

 

 

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Christchurch Harbour Hotel: seaweed, sea breeze and salt scrub

There is something glorious about sitting in a fluffy white robe, eating a mango and avocado salad and having mud rubbed into your scalp by a stranger. Theresa May should actually make it an official, annual public holiday thang: ‘Spa Day’ (lol obvious). I’m sure the general population would be much happier.

Spa days are magical occasions aren’t they? And they’re even more magical when along with all of the above, you add a sea breeeeze. The Christchurch Harbour Hotel is perched right on the water so you can practically paddle a canoe out to sea from your bedroom window (how fun!). But why would you want to go to all that effort when you can laze around in the HarSpa hideaway* watching the Harbour Hotel world go by?

A relaxing back pamper is a must. First, you’re smothered in an exfoliating HarSpa Lime and Lemongrass scrub which gently exfoliates your back (and feet btw, I think I frightened my masseuse I was so ticklish). Then warming aromatherapy oils are used to settle you in to an hour long massage. It is divine, and you leave the treatment room feeling as if you’re floating.

Of course the pool, sauna, steam and salt rooms are wonderful, but what really makes the Christchurch Harbour Hotel stand out is the beautiful hideaway area. Its luxury lounging furniture looks out over the water and it’s shaded beneath the trees. You could happily while away the day reading a good novel in the dappled light.

This was my first ever proper blogger lunch** so I nearly squealed in delight when I saw the beautiful table decorated by the wonderful Some Kind of Lovely Events. Seashells, wild grasses and HarSpa candles made the occasion extra special, and don’t even get me started on the lunch. Chickpea and edamame salad, tuna and mango salad, quinoa and carrot salad, beetroot and berry smoothie, cacao and avocado mousse and crispy seaweed. I. Am. Salivating.

When it was all over I genuinely felt like a new woman: refreshed, revitalised, reborn etc. All I wanted to do was take a tiny bit of the Christchurch Harbour Hotel with me. And no, I didn’t steal a coconut like at the last press event I went to… (I’d had a couple of wines). The HarSpa products are perfect for a ‘spa at home’. I’ve honestly been sitting at work with Purity Eye Patches on and a Sweet Fig Bay handcream in my handbag.

Whether you want a coastal break away, or a pamper session at home, the Christchurch HarSpa is the one. Christchurch is the perfect location to get away from it all, and you’ll soon forget your worries when you smell that sweet sea breeze combined with the Marine Salt Scrub.

 

*N.B. This hideaway = VERY different to the Love Island hideaway.

**This Spa Day was complimentary for the purpose of review. See disclaimer for full details.

 

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Taste of London: a foodie festival

Firepits, flowers and free chickpea puffs: Taste of London needs to be in your summer festival calendar.

As soon as I walked into the Regent’s Park festival, my tastebuds were tingling with the smell of Bao Buns, Barrafina’s tapas, and a mezze from Meraki. The firepit exuded a thick, smoky smell of bbq ribs which can be nicely washed down with a gin from the Sipsmith stand. Or maybe a Tanqueray?

I am the worst person with food. I’m one of those people that always has loads of small dishes. I want to try EVERYTHING. And that is the beauty of this festival. If you’re a greedy pig like me, you can have sushi with curry, a macaron with an ice cream, a vegan wrap with a burger. There are no rules, just make sure you turn up hungry!

You spend yourself recognising restaurants you ‘haven’t got round to trying’, or eateries that are the other side of London. But because they’re all in one place, you can try what you like and decide what’s worth going back to. (in my opinion, all of them) My friend Lauren and I snacked on a Sri Lankan kotu with paneer, something she’d been meaning to have since she got back from living there.

So you don’t spend your whole day eating (I’m not judging), you can sign up to a Laurent Perrier masterclass or maybe make a salad with the Regent’s Park allotment. Of course we parked ourselves by the Mirabeau rosé and treated ourselves to a frosé each.

If you love food (if you don’t, get off ma blog) you need to make sure you keep this weekend free. Because why wouldn’t you want to do a champagne masterclass while eating a hot dog?

Taste of London will be back for Winter, 15-18 November at the Tobacco Dock, book your tickets here

 

 

 

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The Ivy Winchester Brasserie: Scallops, steak and a bottle of Sauvignon

Let me introduce you to the most delicious chips on the planet. Chips that do not compare to any other chips, chips that are in a league of their own, chips that are covered in a parmesan and truffle sauce and are SO good you will have to be rolled out of the restaurant.

These aren’t just any chips, these are The Ivy Winchester Brasserie* chips.

On a summer’s evening, what could be nicer than being greeted with an English Spritz cocktail sitting outside on Parisian-style chairs, with Winchester Cathedral’s bells twinkling away in the background?

The location is perfect: slap bang on the high street, so if you need to pop to Boots between courses then you can. I don’t think I’ve ever received such flawless service, the waiting staff made me feel like a Queen and couldn’t do enough to help, but also didn’t keep asking how our meal was every 5 minutes, ya get me? The interior of The Ivy Winchester Brasserie is classy, sophisticated and has a touch of Art Deco, reminiscent of the period during which the brand launched in 1917.

When you think of a goat’s cheese salad, you think a couple of iceberg lettuce leaves with some goat’s cheese, and maybe a thick slice of cucumber plonked on top if you’re lucky? Oh nooo, this beauty (first image below) had caramelized hazelnuts, it had pickled grapes, and don’t even get me started on the Belgian endive (I had to google it too)! The scallops were butter in my mouth, perfectly complemented with a pea purée and crispy shallots for texture, and the lamb special I devoured was divine.

The whole evening was perfect and couldn’t be faulted. (This was possibly due to the bottle of Sauvignon we happily finished during the meal but I’m 99% sure it was marvellous anyway.) The Ivy Winchester Brasserie is the place to go for a ‘special’ evening out; there’s an air of celebration about it, but having said that I am definitely going to be popping back just for those chips.

The Ivy Winchester Brasserie is open now for bookings go to www.theivywinchester.com

*This meal was gifted for the purpose of review. For full details see disclaimer for full details.

 

 

 

 

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Why YOU should try gardening

Whether it’s seeds, sunflowers or slugs (actually not slugs), I bloody love gardening. From potting on my cosmos to weeding the vegetable patch, the more I get out in the garden, the happier I am. I realise, however, that this isn’t the most usual of hobbies for a 26 year old woman. But ever since I can remember, I’ve just loved being in the garden. When I was at uni, I spent my student loan on a clematis and trellis – TRUE STORY.

I remember going on holiday to Spain one year and every street had a waterfall of geraniums trickling down the front of the orange walls. It was so overwhelmingly stunning, that I decided to create it at home. In Reading. Lol.

I persuaded my mum to pay £4.99 postage for ‘100 FREE bright orange bulb selection’ (her least favourite colour) and she gave me a small patch of the front garden. A couple of months later and the patch was transformed into a meditarreanean Spanish vision! Orange gladioli stood tall and proud, while delicate nemesias blew gently in the wind.

Since then, I’ve never stopped growing. (my plants that is, otherwise I’d be very tall…)

Here are five reasons why YOU should get out there and give it a go.

You get to eat your own fruit and veg

There is nothing nicer than sitting down to dinner knowing that you grew 90% of the produce on your plate. That courgette wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for you! And pesticides? Pssssh, forget them mate. Can your courgette BE any more organic?

You spend more time outside

We are the indoor generation. Sat in front of a screen 24/7, sending emails to strangers and then waiting for replies from strangers. You go home, switch on the TV, watch TV, go to bed, look at phone, scroll on phone, go to sleep. Is this life? Gardening forces me to get outside! And in my opinion, those lovely sunny evenings are wasted if you’re sat indoors.

It’s therapeutic

We all know gardening is relaxing. Wafting about looking at waterlilies, listening to the woodpecker ‘peck, peck pecking’ away at the silver beech, picking a wild strawberry from beneath the sweet peas, popping it in your mouth and then BLOODY HELL, SLUG! All jokes aside though, I find it good for the soul to have a little wander in the garden now and then. You know those apps that force you to stop, breathe and meditate? The garden does that for me. It’s like my mindfulness.

It’s satisfying

I challenge you to find another living human being who isn’t a tincy bit excited that a seed they planted from an apple has grown into a tiny shoot. How difficult is it to plonk a seed in some soil? And then two weeks later, bam: new life, ahhhhh! I am Mother Nature.

Gardens are beautiful

Why do you think we spent 45 minutes putting our make-up on every day? Cause we want to look nice. Why do you think I spend 45 minutes potting on stocks every day? Cause I want the garden to look nice. Does anyone NOT enjoy a beautiful garden?* I don’t understand how you can’t!? Even if you have NO interest in gardening and don’t know ANY plant names. So what?! They’re so lovely to visit and it gives me pleasure seeing other people enjoying them.

*soz to all you hay-fever sufferers out there…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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