Thursday, 24 July 2014

A Parisian Garden

This time last week I was in Paris; the temperature soared while I was there and I passed a pharmacy where the sign above flashed 39 degrees at 4pm last Thursday.  It was the kind of city heat that made the sweat trickle down my back and swelled my feet so they rubbed and blistered, even in a pair of favourite trusted walking shoes.  I took a box of plasters in anticipation of much pavement work.

Luckily the hotel was a ten minute walk from the Jardin du Luxembourg, where every evening we'd take a stroll there.  It was full of other tourists with the same idea, lovers smooching, as well as Parisians pulled up on chairs, chatting, reading, smoking and taking in the calm of the park. Away from the formal gardens, on the edge and under the trees were men playing petanque, a children's play park and Shetland ponies giving rides, teenagers playing basketball, kids playing football and people of all ages on the tennis courts too.  It's also a popular jogging route.  In other words it's a perfect place for people watching, with a cone of of passion fruit sorbet in hand.  I took my trusted Canon PowerShot, which is ideal for city breaks when I want a camera that fits into a back pocket or shoulder bag (I'm not an Instagrammer or phone photographer), although I would love to have had my big camera with me.

However I try not to become too photo obsessed on trips, as by staring down a lens trying to capture life, the reality is that you miss so much.


Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Nature Nuts Summer Camp

A school holiday filled with fun, friendships, freedom and fresh air is on offer from play scheme Nature Nuts this August.

Nature Nuts aims to connect young children to nature with outdoor play, crafts, games and animal encounters. The fun scheme introduces children to natural history through the wonder of butterflies, ants, slugs and snails, toads, woodland trees, foxes, squirrels, insects, fish, plus all sorts of seasonal plants and activities. Local parents nominated the play scheme Nature Nuts for a ‘What’s On for Junior Award’ in 2013.

Nature Nuts Summer Camp is based on Coolings Green & Pleasant’s six acre nature trail in Knockholt, between Sevenoaks and Bromley. Children will enjoy wild times every day in shaded woodland and open grassland. They will explore the bird hide, ponds, dens and bug hotels. There is shelter from the elements. There are also plenty of animals to observe including pigs, goats, wallabies and chickens.

Nature Nuts
founder Kirsty Russell of Sevenoaks says:

“Nature Nuts Summer Camp offers something unique for parents who want their children to play outdoors in summer- like they did. We all know it’s important that young children have the opportunity to immerse themselves in nature during their formative years. That’s how they connect, explore, and learn about the natural world around them. Since 2009 Nature Nuts has offered parents some great educational extras as well - through informative guided play sessions, citizen science challenges, and first hand learning about British animals, plants and the seasons.

“More wild time means healthier, happier and smarter children. It can boost creativity, imagination and self confidence, improve sleep, and reduce stress. Our numbers are kept small. We are warm and friendly. The focus is on natural history, fun, and having a nature trail as the venue is fantastic.”

Camp starts at 8:30am and finishes at 4:30pm, Monday 4 August to Thursday 7 August. Late pick-up at 6pm, by arrangement. Children bring a packed lunch and a beaker of water. Camp week costs £148 per child. All bookings are with Nature Nuts. Further information available and all bookings made online at Enquiries via email to

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Lavender Blue

Inspired by Annie’s visit to Hitchin Lavender Farm, I tweeted Annie and Lil Muse Lily saying ‘seeking out lavender farms in Kent and Sussex, to which The Hop Shop responded: ‘We can help you out with a lavender farm in Kent!  Hope you can visit.’  I went on Monday and had a good wander around.  The smell of lavender was so soothing and the setting of the The Hop Shop at Castle Farm in the North Downs is stunning.  If you go, wear walking shoes and take time to explore Lullingstone Country Park.

Kent TN14 7UB

Check out their Lavender Season Diary, which includes tours and aromatherapy massages.

For this week's How Does Your Garden Grow?


Thursday, 3 July 2014

Catching up in the garden

I just haven’t managed to indulge in How Does Your Garden Grow over the last two weeks, as I’ve been proof reading the magazine, tweaking it, proof reading it again and finally signing it off.  Hurrah, it's done!  I can take a breather before launching myself into the autumn issue.

There’s much work to do in the garden as usual and never enough time, but Mr Smith and I enjoy working out there together.  I always forget how pretty the flowers on potato plants are; I'm thrilled with the succulents I bought from The Walled Nursery earlier this summer and alarmed at the rate of growth of the pumpkin plant I bought there, inspired by the pumpkins at Cherry Gardens Farm last autumn (it's like a triffid).  The packet of nasturtium seeds I planted in a large pot has come up trumps and I've stuck corks on the end of bamboo sticks propping up my tomato plants to avoid poking my eyes out.

I'm looking forward to catching up with this and the last couple of weeks of How Does Your Garden Grow over the next few days and getting some garden inspiration.


Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Top 10 Tips - Family Holiday Budgeting

1.   This is one time to be mega-organised: plan and book months ahead for the best priced flights, holiday deals and airport car parking if you are stuck with the school holidays.  Think about what you want: is it an adventure trip of a lifetime or some fun in the sun?  Stick to your budget and live within your means.  Drive family/friends to and from the airport, so they can repay you with a free lift and pick up.  Book your car park well ahead of time, the cheaper car parks are usually off-site and a bus drive away.

2.  Take a break without the kids during term time.  You can be more spontaneous and book a last minute deal,  subject to childcare.

3.  Family skiing holidays can be eye wateringly expensive in February half term and at Easter.  If you want to  give your child/ren the opportunity, the school ski trip could be the answer (without you) - then you can all ski together once they've left school.  Friends tell me its one of the best holidays for reuniting families with kids in their late teens/twenties and beyond.

4.  Use a travel agent, it often works out cheaper and they'll work within your budget.  They can tailor the trip for you, save you pounds with their expertise and frustrating hours trawling the internet. I've used Trailfinders several times, they've moved on since my student days.

5.  Borrow guide books from friends/family (instead of being tempted to buy your own brand new glossy guide) and listen to their recommendations, tips and experiences.  

6.  Shop around for currency and watch exchange rates: the current Pound to Euro exchange rate is more favourable than this time last year and may well buy a few more bottles of Rosé.

7.  Remind teenagers about charges they’ll incur when putting their debit card in a hole in the wall abroad.

8.  Buy an annual travel insurance policy for the family if it’s a busy year on the overseas travel front and don't forget your EHIC cards in Europe (we did one year: the first thing we were asked in a  French hospital was 'How are you going to pay?').

9.  Consider self catering holidays: a villa or apartment will often come with a pool and offer more flexibility and  space than a hotel.  In August this can sometimes be better value than camping holidays in Europe.  Do friends/family have holiday lets they can offer to you with 'mates rates'?  Do a house swap!

10. Throughout the year/s, put your weekly family food spend towards your holiday e.g. convert supermarket vouchers into Avios points to spend on flights, hotels and attractions.  I'm Queen of Tesco Clubcard and over the last 18 years I've put points towards 4 return flights to Cape Town, 2 return flights to Munich (& 4* hotel), 4 return flights to Montpellier, 2 return flights to Bordeaux, 2 return flights to Barbados & I've just booked a trip to Paris (& 3* hotel) on Eurostar with my youngest teen.  We love to travel, so make holidays a priority most years, working the trips into our annual spend.

Paris awaits...

This is my entry to Caxton FX's competition (which I came across on Rosie Scribble's blog) to win a £500 charged Global currency card.

Lounge On The Farm

Lounge on the Farm music festival is back for it's ninth year with a big one day event for people of all ages. The big news is that the festival is moving away from Merton Farm (Canterbury), home for the past nine years. LOTF has had some great times here, but it is time to move on. They'll be saying goodbye in style with a huge one day party for all regular Loungers and some new friends.

Despite being a one day event, they've put together a line-up of great music, perfomance, art, cinema, family entertainment and food and drink that people have come to expect from LOTF. Everyone in the music line-up has been specially selected to create a complete party atmosphere with bands like Fun Lovin' Criminals headlining. The New York trio behind hits like Scooby Snacks and Loco will be playing their first Kent show. On top of that Peter Hook from New Order and Joy Division will be playing a set of classics from his back catalogue.

Other acts include The Subways, Dub Pistols, Courtney Pine and DJ Yoda to name a few. They have a great lineup of DJs taking us through to the early hours of the morning such as DJ Alfredo, DJ Fresh, Ollie Teeba (The Herbaliser) and LOTF's very own ComfyPorn.

Lounge on the Farm has never been just about the music and this year is no different. They've got a huge array of other cultural delights in the Playhouse Stage which, this year, will have a special focus on spoken word poetry. This year The Playhouse Stage is being co-hosted by Spoke 'n' Word who will be bringing a great array of poets and performers to Lounge. As well, The Playhouse will have comedy, visual arts performers, cinema screenings and more.

Of course, no Lounge on the Farm would be complete with its dedicated family area Little Lounge. This year they're being joined by Ben Elf and Princess Holly, who will be bringing all the magic from their Little Kingdom to LOTF. We also have El Baldinhio's Monkey Magic, Bezerkas Circus and loads of specially selected mayhem for children from 0-14.

The great news for parents is KIDS UNDER TWELVE CAN COME FOR FREE! LOTF is also offering a limited number of camping tickets for those who wish to make a night of it.  Visit for more information.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

If only all work days could be like this

I couldn't resist an invitation to attend this year's Seven Wonders of the Weald press day, which took place at Groombridge Place and the National Trust's Scotney Castle. It was a warm and muggy Monday with patches of sunshine. Organised by Caroline of Pennington PR, the event was well attended by press from varied publications and organisations including The Sun, Visit England and me/local indie mag Playground. We were treated to a ploughman's lunch at Groombridge Place, and a glass of Biddenden Vineyard's own Ortego and a traditional National Trust cream tea at Scotney: a freshly baked warm scone, clotted cream and blackberry jam - I know how seriously the NT takes their tea and scones. If only all work days could be like this. The goody bag included a Seven Wonders of the Weald pass and some amazing stem ginger fudge, which I'm currently nibbling on.

I love an excuse to be a tourist for a day.

Groombridge Place 

I've really focussed on the formal gardens at Groombridge in this post, but it's a great place to take the children with it's Enchanted Forest, birds of prey, giant swings, Crusoe's World and activities that run throughout the holidays. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes liked visiting Groombridge Place too.

Scotney Castle

The romantic ruin on the lake is the most famous sight at Scotney Castle and it's as magical as ever. However, new to me was the interior of the house on the hill overlooking the lake, open to the public since 2007. If you are a curious person, it's a great place to wander from room to room looking at furnishings, objects and art collected by the Hussey family over the years. It's a dark house with lots of atmosphere and the NT volunteers are so full of information. Outside, the roses climbing up the walls of the Walled Garden were spectacular, as were the wild orchids growing in the meadow and beyond acres and acres of estate as far as the eye could see.

For this week's How Does Your Garden Grow? Next week I'll be returning to the more humble surroundings of my own back garden.

Mammasaurus and How Does Your Garden Grow?