Big Garden Birdwatch 2016 results


Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 10.24.37The RSPB has collated and released the results of this year’s public wildlife survey – the world’s largest. Over half a million people took part, spotting over 8m birds.

The sparrow is still in the no.1 spot ( although not in my garden), and the long-tailed tit makes its first appearance in the top 10, due to the mild winter.

My own sightings were fairly typical of where I live. Click here to download regional results to compare your garden with those around you.

Here’s what I saw, with their ranking where I live in brackets:
3 blue tit (3), wood pigeon (4), blackbird (5), collared dove (6), great tit (7), robin (8), dunnock (13), coal tit (18), nuthatch (25).

What is a shamrock?


pp--afw-make-st-patricks-day-card-300x400St Patrick’s Day erupts in a sea of green, sprinkled with shamrocks. But what is a shamrock?

The story is that the druids held the shamrock as a sacred plant because of its three leaves – three being the magic number in druidism. So don’t get confused; it’s not a four-leaf clover.

When St Patrick arrived in Ireland from Wales he used the handy shamrock to illustrate the holy trinity of Christianity.

Show me a shamrock

We most often see the shamrock in illustrated form, not photos, so opinion varies on which plant is the true shamrock.

Trifolium dubium is most widely believed to be the true shamrock. It’s a type of clover, also known as the lesser trefoil, suckling clover, little hop clover or lesser hop trefoil.

shamrock - your shamrock supply for future St Patrick’s Days by buying shamrock seeds: £2.99 for 100 from Cottage Garden Plants Direct.

See more of my gardening writing.


Stand-out show gardens from the Chelsea Flower Show


2016 will be my tenth year covering the Chelsea Flower Show. It’s one of my favourite days at work! I thought I’d revisit some of my favourite gardens from the past five years. Well, not quite the past five as last year, sadly, I had a funeral to attend, so it’s my pick of the best from 2010 to 2014. All photos ©Adrienne Wyper



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Recalling the landscape of Provence, this show garden appears to be sited at the base of a cliff, with a water channel and terraced beds adding to the illusion of height. Olive and pine trees are underplanted with lavender, rosemary, borage and marigolds – all botanicals which are used in the company’s best-selling products.
Awards: Silver Gilt medal

Daily Telegraph

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Steel screens slice through this contemporary gravel garden, inspired by travel with hints of the landscapes of South Africa, the Mediterranean and South America. Open clearings of gravel mingle with densely planted areas, backed by a courtyard area in the shade of a cork oak.
Rusty orange was a refreshing new shade seen this year in many gardens, most often with bronze-toned irises, displayed in big bowls here in The Daily Telegraph Garden as well as the University of Worcester Garden. This warm, coppery hue tones well with rusted metal and wood.
Awards: Best Show Garden, Gold medal


Daily Telegraph

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Exploring the nature of timelessness, this garden is a mix of formal and traditional elements such as yew edging, along with contemporary style, as in the water pipes emerging from a lemon wall. The planting is designed with self-seeding in mind, suggesting an evolution of the garden’s appearance over time: what was, is, and will be.
Award: Best Show Garden


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A fresh take on a traditional kitchen garden, this is a relaxing space that’s very productive. In just one corner of one of the willow-walled raised beds are lettuce, coriander, lavender, with climbing roses and climbing courgettes scrambling together up an obelisk. The design is framed by pleached trees, with a central pool for filling your watering can. At the rear is a glass platform sheltering a seating area beneath.
Award: Silver-Gilt Flora medal


Homebase Teenage Cancer Trust


The warm tones of this garden’s planting are offset by the fresh green foliage and cool blue-toned water feature, supplied by a shallow rusted-metal rill.

Designed to offer a series of views, contained by cedarwood frames, the garden appears as a series of snapshots.
Award: Gold medal



Evoking the natural beauty of wild places in the British countryside, this design features perennials, meadow flowers and grasses arranged around a central Chilmark limestone pool, with copper detailing inspired by the mineral wealth of North Wales and Dartmoor. A natural-looking stepping stone walkway leads to a casual seating area. The whole is framed by a stand of birches.
Award: Gold medal


RBC Blue Water Roof Garden

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An urban rooftop garden, this design blends recreational space with wildlife-friendly features.The garden includes a striking living wall of flowerpots, which need no watering, with insect shelters built into the wall. A central ‘wetland’ area captures rainwater run-off. Among the planting are bright blue Himalayan blue poppy (Meconopsis).
Gold Medal

Trailfinders Australian Garden

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Showcasing sustainable landscaping, this garden focuses on water management and natural habitat gardening.

All of the garden’s surfaces channel rainwater into a tank and a billabong, intended as a natural swimming pool. When the water tank is full, the overflow is directed into a creek which flows into the billabong.

The striking terracotta-coloured space is a studio, with a design based on the waratah flower.
Award: Best Show Garden


A Garden for First Touch from St George’s

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This garden’s watercourse, encased in weathered metal, represents the journey that premature babies and their families follow. The source at the top of the stylised valley is turbulent but then the flow becomes gentler. The garden is planted mainly in soothing blues and greens, set in pale gravel.
Award: Silver-gilt Flora


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Designed as a series of defined layers, the layout is cool and contemplative with natural elements in a geometric setting. The garden features vivid lemon and lime shades with plants including Euphorbia palustris and E cornigera, lemon Lupinus ‘Chandelier’ and ‘Cashmere Cream’ and Geum ‘Lemon Drops’.
Best Show Garden, Gold medal




Shakespeare’s paper trail


This year, it’s 400 years since Shakespeare died and from February 3 until May 29, his last known work – his signature on his will – is on display at By Me, William Shakespeare, A Life in Writing. It’s a once-in-a-generation chance. After the exhibition, the will goes back into storage.

The will is famous, of course, for that bequest of his second-best bed to his wife.


The exhibition includes four of Shakespeare’s six existing signatures, including the first on record, brought together for the first time, in a creatively curated exhibition which brings to life Shakespeare’s time in London.


The will itself is faded and creased, and it’s easy to see ‘By Mr William’… but the surname is rather hard to read. Although authorship of his plays may be argued over, Shakespeare’s will is definitely all his own work!

Shakespeare400 is a consortium of cultural, creative and educational organisations, which will mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016








The trials of travelling light


Teva sandalsAs a travel journalist, people expect me to be good at travelling light… I wish!

I’ve written features about the theory of packing the perfect (lightweight) suitcase, but it’s always easier to give advice than take it, so when it comes to choosing a holiday wardrobe, I really struggle.

I’m in awe of light-travelling friends and colleagues, like Alyson, of top style-at-any-age blog That’s Not My Age and award-winning travel writer and photographer Jan Fuscoe, both of whom I’ve been away with. And they seem to manage with less than me.

But for me, it’s always about weather and what-if’s. It could start raining. What if I get sunburn? In the mornings it’s chilly there. And up the mountains. What if I spill that local delicacy down my only smart top? There’s a stiff breeze off the sea. What if I want to go cycling? Or running? It’s incredibly humid in the afternoons. What if I sweat so much I can’t wear the go-with-everything garment more than once?

The packing issue is pressing because I’m off to India soon, and have two climate zones to contend with, and a smaller-than-usual baggage allowance. Although the airline I arrive with has the usual limit, I’ve got several internal flights, and Air India’s is 15kg.

In Delhi, the start of the trip, it’s about 23°C by day, dropping to 7°C overnight, and in Kerala, end of the trip, it’s 36° by day, dropping to 22°C overnight. And, of course, I need to keep my shoulders and knees covered!

Clothes-wise, I seem to be going for trousers and tops. Lots of tops, so that I can layer as many as I need.

Rab jacket from Cotswold OutdoorAnd my Rab jacket from Cotswold Outdoor that kept me cosy in Finland’s Arctic Circle (at -33°C) last year. That might seem too warm to take to India but it weighs practically nothing, I may wear it over just a T-shirt, it squishes up really small, and I can wear it to and from Gatwick.

I’m not buying anything new, except the Teva sandals (above), which I plan to wear with everything, all day long. And I’ll take flip flops (slippers, change of footwear), barefoot trainers and possibly lightweight pointed flat pumps for dressing up.

And if anyone knows where to buy the perfect all-purpose shoes that work for hours of pavement-pounding sightseeing, look equally good with shorts and smart dresses, can go for a hike or a paddle and are comfortable enough to wear around the clock, let me know. They don’t exist. Last year I took eight pairs of shoes narrowboating. And wore them all.

Wish me luck!

How to make an ice lantern


Ice lantern made by Adrienne WyperBeing 200km north of the Arctic Circle, with temperatures as low as -30°C, seemed the perfect time to have fun with snow and ice.

Staying in northern Finland on a winter activities week with Inntravel, as well as trying out more conventional winter pastimes such as dogsledding, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, I also wanted to experiment with cold-weather creativity.

In the past I’ve made ice bowls for serving drinks and desserts; now it was time for ice lanterns. Here’s how:




water balloonswater balloons in the snowFill a balloon with water, tie the neck securely, then place outside in the snow. The balloon will have a spherical shape, supported by the snow.

Leave overnight and it will freeze solid. In the morning, snip the neck of the balloon and peel it away from the ice.

Your ice lantern will be spherical, with a solid bottom and more delicate, thinner ice walls curving up to an opening at the top, as in the photo at the top of the page.

Drop a tea light into the hollow in the middle, and strike a match!


Flowerpot ice lantern in the makingAs we’ve hit a cold spell (down to -2°C tonight), I thought I’d try making an ice lantern in the (slightly) warmer temperatures of the Southeast. I haven’t got any balloons so I’ve filled a plastic bag with water and popped it into a flowerpot, lacking a handy snow bank to mould it into a sphere. I’ll report back on how it goes…

Day 2: Although temperatures fell as low as -4° last night, the water inside the bag inside the flowerpot wasn’t frozen solid. The water in the centre was still liquid (which is a heartening thing if you’re concerned about potted plants surviving the winter).

I lifted out the bag, poured out the water, untied the plastic bag and pulled it away and there was enough ice around the side to make a container for a tea light, once I’d turned it upside down. Here’s the finished flowerpot ice lantern.

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 09.18.02





When is Twelfth Night?


Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 10.25.11Twelfth Night is upon us, and whether that’s January 5 or 6 seems to be a matter of opinion. It depends on when you believe the 12 days of Christmas start.

Hundreds of years ago, the consensus was that Christmas started at sunset on December 24, and therefore the 12th night after that was January 5. However, if you count from December 25 itself, Twelfth Night falls on January 6. So perhaps it’s safest to take down your decorations on the 5th, because if you leave them up beyond Twelfth Night then, according to tradition, you’ll have to leave them up until next Christms to avoid bad luck!

Whichever date you choose, we’re faced with the guilt-inducing problem of what to do with all those Christmas cards. If you want to keep them – and you have the space – problem solved. But if you like to make a clean sweep, here are some green ideas to hep keep you clutter-free, and do your bit for the environment.

Burn them

If you’ve got an open fire or a stove, colour-printed cards burn pretty well.

Turn them into gift tags

Simply cut out an attractive part of the design, with blank space on the back. (It could get confusing if it’s on a gift to Uncle Fred from you, but says ‘all at no25’ on the reverse.) Using pinking shears gives a truly handmade, retro feel. Add a hole using a hole punch, and add a loop of ribbon or butcher’s twine.

Turn them into baubles

Make them now and keep them until next Christmas, or keep the cards and the instructions and do it nearer the time. Here’s how to make Christmas baubles from old Christmas cards.

Use them as bookmarks

Simply cut strips from areas that aren’t too Christmassy, and place between the pages to keep your place.

Make dinner-table place settings

Cut small rectangles from the cards on the fold, so they stand up, and write on your guests’ names. If they’re cut from a Christmassy part of the card, keep them for Christmas. If not, use them all year round.

Help environmental charities

Drop your cards into special boxes in Marks & Spencer stores until January 31 to help the Woodland Trust. Last year over six million cards were recycled this way, enabling the Trust to plant 6,256 trees.

Or take them to Sainsbury’s (in over 1,000 stores until January 13) to help the Forest Stewardship Council.

Get the most from the Christmas post


I’m currently doing some shifts as a Christmas casual for Royal Mail (not a career change; just broadening my life experience while earning extra cash). Seeing how people prepare their post, and how it’s handled, has been eye-opening. Here’s my advice:

  1. Put an address on the envelope. Then check that you’ve put an address on all of the envelopes before posting. Yes, we all think we do but my recent experience has shown a startling number of envelopes, some even stamped, with a first name only.
  2. Sending something abroad? Add the name of the country! Wellington in New Zealand is not the only place with that name. Standing at the frame (postcoded pigeonholes) isn’t the best-equipped place for a sorter to work out where in the world you mean.
  3. Lots of place names occur more than once within the UK, even within the same county, eg St Ives, Newport, Gillingham, Richmond… so it never hurts to add the county.
  4. If your handwriting is tiny, consider writing slightly larger than normal. Not everyone sorting the post has perfect eyesight. And squinting gives you wrinkles.
  5. Make sure the colour of the ink stands out against the colour of the envelope. If you find it hard to read, so will the sorter (who has to look at thousands of envelopes a day).
  6. Breaking news alert: there are these things called postcodes. The last one for the UK was introduced back in 1974. Not sure of it? Don’t invent your own or leave it off. Look here: Top tip: if you don’t know all of it, the first two letters are a big help. (Post is initially sorted into the areas designated by the first two letters of the postcode.)
  7. If your handwriting is appalling scrawl, don’t be afraid to write like a child, particularly the important bit – the address.
  8. Don’t write ‘local’ on the envelope. The person who opens the pillarbox doesn’t run round the corner to pop it through the letterbox; it all goes to a central office and is sent back out again.
  9. Writing ‘fragile’ on a parcel doesn’t automatically consign it to a cushioned-as-a-cloud, feather-lined container. It may be gently placed in the wheeled crate in which it will leave the sorting office with all the other post. But another, heavier parcel may land on it later. See no.10. And see Royal Mail’s tips on packaging fragile items.
  10. Wrap those parcels up really securely. They may be lobbed from a distance of up to four metres into the crates they’re transported in.

Save money: shop across the Channel


EurotunneltrainDo the booze cruise in style with this money-saving guide to crossing the Channel: where to save money and spend time…

Eurotunnel for free

Shop at Tesco? Got a Clubcard? If you live in the Southeast, it’s a great idea to spend Clubcard points on Eurotunnel crossings. For £10 in tokens, you get £30 to spend on Eurotunnel. You receive the voucher codes by email, then phone Eurotunnel to book (at least 14 days before travel). Eurotunnel crossings cost from £23 each way, so you can get a return crossing for £20 worth of tokens.

Eyes on the exchange rate

At today’s rates, your pound buys you €1.42, ie €1 = 70p. For a quick calculation, take a quarter off, so an item at €8 will be roughly £6 (£5.64 to be precise).

Take an empty tank

Fuel prices in France are lower than in the UK. At today’s prices, in euros, a litre of unleaded costs, on average, €1.3 across the Channel, €1.5 in the UK. Savings on diesel are even better: €1.1 in France, €1.5 in the UK. Convert euros to pounds (at today’s rates) and see the savings: unleaded costs £1 a litre in the UK, 91p in France. Diesel is even better value at 78p per litre in France, compared with £1 in the UK.

Trolley dash

If you’re in a hurry you can drive to Cité Europe, five minutes from the tunnel. It’s the largest shopping centre in northern France with lots of high-street names – 150 shops including Yves Rocher, Zara, Sephora – plus a Carrefour hypermarket and loads of parking. You can apply for a loyalty card, which gives you discounts and other offers. Convenient, but I’ve found it a bit empty and soulless.

Make a break for Boulogne

If I’m making the effort to visit another country, I like to feel that I’m abroad, rather than zipping along a featureless autoroute. Granted, Calais has more supermarkets, but Boulogne has authentic French ambience. Oh, and shops. With its market, speciality shops and hypermarket within 10 minutes’ drive, it’s perfect for stocking up with advance supplies for Christmas, New Year, parties, weddings, birthdays, any excuse really…

Drive the 42km south of Calais to Boulogne-sur-Mer, taking the coastal road, the D940, which has great views of England – and the Côte d’Opale, as this area is known. The name ‘opal coast’ was coined by the French painter Édouard Lévêque in 1911, referring to the quality of the light. Personally, I think Côte de Perle is more accurate..

On the D940 you’ll pass through town and villages, including the lovely coastal resort of Wissant, and Cap Gris Nez, at 34km, France’s closest point to the UK.

Le shopping

The market, Place Dalton (Wednesday and Saturday, 8.30am to around midday) Head for the haute ville to park for free outside the 13th-century city walls, then take a short stroll downhill.

Wander round the market square packed with stalls stacked with fresh local produce, like chickens (still with feet and heads on), gorgeous seasonal fruit and veg, herbs, flowers and plants, cheese, charcuterie, chickens on a rotisserie, a stall with bubbling cauldrons of hearty cassoulet (bean and sausage stew) and paella, not forgetting the mini oyster and champagne bar set up around a barrel table. We bought some fresh butter from a local farm for just over a euro, 10 heads of garlic for €4 and a cauliflower as big as my head for a euro. Everyone carried a basket or bag, because refreshingly, this functions as a proper market where local people come to buy everyday food to eat, not as some kind of art installation full of Instagramming tourists. Although the food is treated with respect, and rightly so. One woman carried an armful of leeks as carefully as a bouquet.

Specialist shops

IMG_5789The square is ringed with bars, cafés, bakers and patisseries. At Dessert ou Dessert Autrement (35 Grande Rue) the window was a feast for any ‘lèche vitrine’ (French for window-shopper; it means lick-window), and a steady stream of shoppers gazed in anticipation at glistening tarte aux framboises for €30, and all the French cakes you saw on Bake Off, like religieuses (choux pastry iced nuns), opéras (perfectly rectangular layered almond sponge, ganache and chocolate glaze). Also on the square is Fred (30 Place Dalton), a patisserie and boulangerie where you can buy fab French bread.

Just around the corner (at 43 rue Thiers) is one of France’s best-stocked and most famous cheese shops, Philippe Olivier. The ripe, pungent aroma hits you in the face as you enter. I wanted a cheese that tasted like the shop smelt and we weren’t disappointed with our Vieux Boulogne, a rind-washed, unpasteurised, unpressed cow’s-milk cheese which has been scientifically tested and declared to be the stinkiest in the world. And I won’t disagree, given the ripe stench emanating from the kitchen at the moment. We lovingly refer to it (apologies for un-PC term) as being like a tramp’s crevices.

Along the street is another appetisingly aromatic shop, Les Chocolats de Beussent-Lachelle (56, rue Thiers), definitely another lèche-vitrine stop. The owners take chocolate seriously; they own a cocoa plantation in Ecuador and this is the flagship branch of 10. Prices aren’t cheap, but I’d say they’re worth it. Mendiants (chocolate rounds topped with nuts) are €14.40 for 200g. Slabs of chocolate are encrusted with nuts, candied fruit, dried figs, pine nuts, salted caramel, and a 250g box of your choice of the exquisite chocolates is €18.75.

Freshly caught fish and seafood is prepared and sold every day on the Quayside Boulevard Gambetta.

If you prefer a specialist wine shop to a supermarket, head for Le Chais (49 rue des Deux Ponts/30 rue Brequerecque) where the third generation of a family selling wines for 150 years runs a warehouse with 800+ wines.

Stop for lunch

There’s an obsession with Welsh rarebit or ‘le welsh’ in this part of France. The Welsh Pub (Place Dalton) has a ‘les welshs’ menu section with a choice of seven types, served with frites or green salad. Or try the galettes (buckwheat Breton pancakes) and crêpes at the Breton Crêperie St Michel (43 rue de Lille). We tucked away two delicious courses and draught cider in stoneware cups for €25.

Don’t miss: ‘Head for the hypermarché’ and ‘Show us the savings’

Five best things I tried this week



Upcycling my first, felted, jumper

When I say first, I mean, firstly, the jumper I designed and knitted after I (re)learnt to knit, and secondly, the only garment I’ve ever felted. It was made in Rowan Big Wool, of four rectangles (front, back, two sleeves) and I loved it. And then, five months ago, I washed it in the washing machine. On a wool cycle. Because I didn’t know I shouldn’t. And it felted.

Being a bit of a hoarder, I couldn’t bear to throw my new miniature jumper away. I wanted to upcycle it. And this week I did. I cut the sleeves off, sewed the front and back together where necessary, cut two strips – and made a bag. It’s lovely. I’ve had compliments. But I’d still prefer the jumper.

IMG_5685Seeing The Rising Tide

Part of the annual Thames Festival, this sometimes-submerged sculpture by Jason Decaires Taylor, is on the south side of the Thames by Vauxhall Bridge, next to the MI6 building. It’s designed to encourage environmental awareness and features four horses with nodding donkey oil drills for heads. Men in suits sit astride two of the horses, looking upward, avoiding looking at the rising water. Children sit astride the other two, and their gaze is directed at the river. The sculpture is in situ until September 30.

Taking vitamin B12

That’s the one that vegetarians like me worry about. It’s found in meat, eggs and dairy produce, and is needed for the production of healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body. Symptoms of deficiency include extreme tiredness and lack of energy. I’m certainly not lacking in energy at the moment, but as always it’s hard to know what’s responsible – I’ve had a few positive changes in my life recently.

There are lots of vitamin B12 supplements out there, but if you take daily supplements in tablet form, as I do, you might like Better You Boost B12 Oral Spray (£11.95). If you’re necking a succession of capsules it’s a pleasant change to squirt this deliciously peachy-tasting supplement inside your cheek, where it’s more easily absorbed by the body than via the stomach.
This product was supplied for testing free of charge.

Making elderberry cordial

I’ve been making elderflower ‘champagne’ for several years, and I haven’t even finished this year’s ‘vintage’ when with the sudden arrival of autumn (which felt like it happened overnight) the elder trees were covered with sprigs of black berries.

Elderberry, or Sambucus nigra, concoctions have been a folk remedy for colds for donkeys’ years, and there are several cold-fighting products on sale that contain it. However, I’m content to take my homemade cordial with hot water if I’m struck down by the virus. And in the meantime, it makes a very acceptable alternative to crème de cassis for a kir.

Pick some berries (by cutting the sprigs off the tree, not individually), then run a fork down the stems to remove the berries. Give them a rinse, drain, weigh them, put them in a saucepan and just cover with water. Add half their weight in sugar, bring to the boil and stir until the sugar dissolves. Then pour the cordial into sterilised bottles.

Storing my earrings

Until this week, my earrings have been jumbled up together in a lidded box from Habitat. Not very satisfactory – it leads to endless rummaging, usually when I’m in a hurry. This week, inspiration struck… so I bought a canvas from Tiger (£3), and poked my earrings through it. You could also use it for necklaces, suspending them on a couple of pins poked through the canvas.