Ready, steady, grow!

Ready, steady, grow!

wide of patch3.jpg

As a nation, we’ve been busy cooking, crafting and converting thanks to inspirational TV series such as The Great British Bake Off, The Sewing Bee and The Great Interior Design Challenge. This evening sees the launch of the next traditional skill to be celebrated: the art of growing your own.


In The Big Allotment Challenge, hosted by Fern Britton, nine pairs of amateur gardeners will be putting their green fingers to the test in a number of challenges, which include growing unblemished fruit and vegetables, cultivating displays of beautiful blooms and, finally, using their produce to make preserves, condiments and floral arrangements. Each task will then be judged by a panel of experts – the RHS-judge Jim Buttress, floral designer Jonathan Moseley, and cookery writer Thane Prince – and, over the course of six hour-long episodes, the 18 hopefuls will be narrowed down and a winning two named cream of the crop.


Taking place in the pretty walled garden surroundings of Mapledurham House in Oxfordshire, The Big Allotment Challenge is not only a programme for keen gardeners, interested in picking up practical tips and ideas from the professionals, but is also aimed at novices who just want to have a go. So, whether you’ve got a window box, a garden border or an allotment, tune into BBC2 tonight at 8pm and find out how you can create your own green oasis at home.



Crafting for a good cause

Crafting for a good cause


Year: 2009 Month: 10 Page: 5

Who can resist the combination of doing a favourite hobby and the feel-good factor? Charity Sue Ryder has launched a competition to seek out the best makers across the country. On its just-launched Sue Ryder New Goods Website, there will be a special ’UK Handmade’ category featuring the work of British artisans, from vintage-inspired homeware to traditional children’s toys.

If you’ve a kitchen table talent and would like to try selling your handmade items for the first time, this could be the perfect opportunity to test the water! All you need to qualify is the ability to produce 25 ‘limited edition’ items and supply them at a wholesale price, so that 100 per cent of the profits will be ploughed into Sue Ryder’s work in hospices and neurological care.

What you need to know

Enter by midnight 5 May. The charity is holding a national online vote via its Facebook Page, as entries are submitted, to decide on the top ten products which will then feature on its website as part of the unique collection of handmade gifts. Once chosen, makers must produce 25 of each winning product and submit them by 26 May. Items will then go on sale 1 June 2014

How to enter 

Go to the competition app on the Sue Ryder Facebook page and include:

·         The name of your business or yourself if a sole trader.

·         A high-quality photo and description of the product you are entering

·         A recommended retail price (RRP) for your product (Sue Ryder New Goods will pay the wholesale price of winning products via invoice on a sale or return basis. Please ensure you have this in mind. As a guide the wholesale price is usually around 1/3 of the recommended retail price).

Good luck – and let the Country Living team know if you take part!




Saving grace

Saving grace
St Mary the Virgin, Rutland

St Mary the Virgin, Rutland

Adding to the magnificent national collection of more than 340 unique and beautiful buildings with 1,000 years of history, The Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) has rescued yet another church from decline. St Mary the Virgin is an enchanting Grade II-listed medieval example in Rutland, surrounded by green pastures grazed by a herd of cows, in the small village of Ayston, near Uppingham. As well as improving below-ground drainage, the work planned includes the conservation of medieval wall paintings.

For more than 40 years and with the help of over 1,000 regular volunteers, CCT has ensured that invaluable churches such as St Mary’s have been beautifully restored. The charity’s sites attract almost two million visitors every year while remaining centres for the community. Dr Neil Rushton, Conservation Manager at CCT, says: “The Trust is very keen to bring back the social and community uses that have traditionally been part of a church, such as education, schools, farmers markets and plays.”

Another beneficiary of CCT’s transformative work is St Paul’s in Bristol. This 18th-century gothic building was just a shell when it came into the care of the charity in 1997. Now the restoration is complete, and it showcases original craftsmanship, while having a new and contemporary purpose, as well as hosting a wide variety of modern performance arts, St Paul’s has become a circus skills training centre.

St Pauls Bristol (after restoration)

In a similar way, CCT is hoping to give St Mary’s a practical use while maintaining its medieval charm. The church will be closed for eight months while the restoration is carried out and is planned to open for visitors by early spring 2015. CCT is looking for volunteers to get involved with keeping the building open and used by both local people and visitors from further afield. Those interested in volunteering should contact David Adgar on 07733 108553 or email

Words by Faris Al-Jawad




Get a taste of the country: Garsons

Get a taste of the country: Garsons


Words by Faris Al-Jawad

Surrounded by beautiful British countryside, a village green and duck pond, Garsons is not just worth visiting for the array of homegrown, handmade and freshly baked produce that fills its shop’s shelves, but with a gift shop, garden centre, café and award-winning Pick Your Own Farm, it has all the ingredients for an enjoyable family day out.

Garsons is a family founded enterprise that has been growing fruit and vegetables since 1871. Today, it has expanded to include two sites – one at Esher in Surrey and another at Titchfield in Hampshire. Both pride themselves for the quality of what’s on offer: at Esher, for example, enjoy flavoursome game, pork and beef from the acclaimed Bevan’s Butchers, lobster and swordfish (when in season) from Poulters Fish, and artisan bread from the local Cavan Bakery, which has been perfecting their craft for more than 83 years.


But perhaps the highlight of a trip to Garsons is the Pick Your Own farm, the UK’s biggest. With 150 acres offering crops such as beetroots, asparagus, pumpkins, rhubarb, raspberries and flowers, too – look forward to gathering bunches of sunflowers and sweet peas over the summer months – there’s something to be had throughout the growing year. Head there at the end of May to enjoy the first strawberries of the season.


Once you’ve filled your baskets indoors and out, take a look at the 9,000 different plants and stylish accessories stocked in the Garden Centre, or relax in the spacious, sun-lit restaurant with a delicious selection of cooked breakfasts, lunches and afternoon teas, made fresh each day, using locally sourced and seasonal ingredients.

In addition to the above, Garsons at Titchfield, which opened in 1999, offers a Wildlife Centre with reptiles and fish – sure to entertain younger visitors this Easter.

Garsons Esher, Winterdown Road, West End, Esher, Surrey KT10 8LS; 01372 460181. Garsons Titchfield, Fontley Road, Titchfield, Hampshire PO15 6QX; 01329 844336.


My! Haven’t I Grown?

My! Haven’t I Grown?
One of the more confident chicks this morning

One of the more confident chicks this morning

They’re not even three weeks old yet, but our brood can’t really be called chicks anymore. Look at them! More like gangly, scruffy teenagers than fluffy baby chickens. And, boy, are they boisterous and rapid! As soon as I put my hand in to change their feed or water, they’re pecking at my fingers and perching on my wrist. It’s wonderful to see them so strong and healthy. Our smaller charge is doing well, too. Though still around half the size of the gang of five, she… To read the rest of this blog, click here


Reclaim the weekend: make your own yogurt

Reclaim the weekend: make your own yogurt
Plain homemade yogurt with honey

Plain homemade yogurt with honey

Making your own yogurt is very satisfying and much cheaper once you’ve started as you keep a little back from each batch to make the next.

Plain yogurt
Preparation 10 minutes plus setting Makes about 750ml
Straining the yogurt through a muslin bag gives a Greek-style version.

750ml whole milk (unhomogenised, if possible)
2 tablespoons whole milk natural yogurt

1 Bring the milk to the boil in a pan set over a medium heat. Take off the heat and allow to cool to about 43ºC. Put the yogurt in a large ceramic or earthenware bowl
2 When the milk has cooled to the correct temperature, remove the skin and whisk into the yogurt
3 Put the ceramic bowl into another larger bowl and pour boiling water in between. Wrap the bowls in a large towel, covering the yogurt completely, and leave in a warm place, ideally an airing cupboard, for at least 4 hours. The yogurt should set firm. If not, check again after an hour – the longer you leave it the thicker and sharper tasting it will be. Store in the fridge until needed for up to a week.

 Extracted from A Country Cook’s Kitchen by Alison Walker

Be a Farm Hero Pop-Up Farm

Be a Farm Hero Pop-Up Farm
Alex James

Photo: Anthony Upton/PA

It’s not often that we mention Canary Wharf here at Country Living but if you’re in London today, don’t miss your chance to experience a taste of country life at the Farm Heroes Saga pop-up farm, celebrating the launch of the Farm Heroes Saga mobile game, available to download now for free on iOS and Android.

This free to enter event, taking place today between 11.30 and 5 o’clock, also marks the launch of the national ‘Be a Farm Hero‘ campaign which encourages stressed-out city dwellers to try a bite-sized portion of farm life by growing their own fruit and vegetables and switching off from stressful city living.

Alex James, bassist for Blur and townie-turned farmer, supports the campaign and will be in attendance today to see the area outside Canary Wharf station turned into a farm. There will be live demonstrations, top tips on simple steps to start growing your own produce and expert advice on, for example, turning your desk space into a green and tranquil area.

Alex says of the event, “Urban farms are a great escape from the concrete jungle and it’s brilliant to raise a few smiles from the suited and booted here in Canary Wharf.”

If the adorable puppy above caught your attention, you’ll be pleased to read that also in attendance will be a springtime selection of farm yard animals including lambs, chicks and pigs plus puppies and rabbits. Relaxing massages, organic produce to sample and free seeds complete the itinerary for this stress-busting day.

Pop along today and get a rare taste of the good life in the heart of the city’s financial district.

Fingle Woods is open!

Fingle Woods is open!

Fingle Woods on the fringes of Dartmoor

Last year I wrote about the Woodland Trust’s campaign to raise funds to restore an ancient woodland habitat in Devon and urged readers to help save this unique spot. Well, the good news is that the ‘Keep Out’ signs have been removed and walkers, cyclists and horseriders have 45km of beautiful new Dartmoor trails to explore and enjoy.

For decades Fingle Woods had been closed for logging and shooting, while native broadleaved trees were cleared to create space for commercial plantations of conifers. The Trust has now raised £3 million of its £5 million target and will start work on thinning the fir trees, allowing the oak, hazel and holly to flourish once more.

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It will take a generation to restore the woodland site fully but there is still plenty to enjoy including wildlife such as pearl-bordered fritillary butterflies that lay their eggs on the patches of dog violets that appear around an Iron Age hillfort, kestrels swooping high above the steep hillsides, kingfishers darting into the crystal-clear waters of the River Teign and wild daffodils carpeting the riverbanks, while Castle Drogo (although this is undergoing some renovations at the moment) stands at the western end of the gorge with its Lutyens-designed terrace garden.

The Trust has now raised £3 million of its £5 million target – to help ensure the vital conservation work can continue as planned, visit their website.