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A-Z countries

What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog begun in 2012 about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.

I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps.

Around 2018 I tried a new way of writing my family's and my own UK travel adventures. Britain is a brilliant place for a staycation, mini-break and day trips. It's also a fantastic place to explore so I've begun to write up reports of places that are easy to reach by public transport. And when they are not that easy to reach I'll offer some tips on how to get there.

See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

How to go on safari in the UK & find the big 5

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. How about going on safari and looking for the Big 5. I've offered a few choices below (six!) plus some places you might find them. But you could create your own Big 5 list... Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Safari lodges for glamping on the Isle of Wight at Node's Point. The Isle of Wight
is a good place to see red squirrels and seals. (c) Park Resorts
If you ever imagine a safari in South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana or Namibia you'll know that soon you will be looking for the "Big Five" by day. By night you'll be back at your tent sipping sundowners discussing the ones that got away, or planning the next day's sightseeing. The original Big 5 list was for big game hunters armed with a rifle not a camera. The popularity of big game hunting has meant that grand old homes in the UK invariably have some forgotten ancestors' big game trophies attached to the wall. Strange to hang a decapitated animal hung on the wall for generations.

I also puzzle about why those five choices.

Lions make sense, so does an elephant, leopard and rhinoceros but how come a buffalo is on the list? Surely a buffalo is just a big sort of cow?

Of course hunting the big five has changed. It's mostly done with binoculars and a camera. If you spot them all you have boasting rights, for ever. But you don't need to trek around the world to try and find impressive, elusive animals.

In Scotland people reckon the big five to spot are red squirrel, red deer (stag), grey seal, otter and golden eagle.

My own Big 5 list is reasonably tough to complete - but not only do you get to look for interesting British wildlife, you also start to think about healthy habitats as you visit beautiful places in the UK.

Here's some help below to get you spotting the British Big 5. Please let me know what you've seen, and where to find them.

On the hunt for hedgehogs along a Yorkshire lane Nell finds a huge puff ball mushroom.
HEDGEHOG (our lion)

  • Critically endangered
  • Squashed hedgehogs on the road indicates a population boom, and bust

Spotting a hedgehog is harder if you live in a town or city as they tend to be lined with solid fencing. But at St Tiggywinkles in Haddenham, Buckinghamshire you can see recovering hedgehogs and listen to hedgehog talks the whole year round.

Hedgehogs hibernate when it gets colder - so in the autumn be sure to leave undisturbed cosy piles of leaves where a hedgehog could warmly over-winter.

My friend Hugh Warwick is Britain's hedgehog expert. He wants us to rip out garden walls and other solid fencing and to pay far more attention to these utterly cute beasties, pointing out that they do good stuff for us too by eating up garden pests (so there's no need to use chemicals). His first book was called A Prickly Affair, and one of the next was Hedgehog. Have a look at his website, and if you meet him, insist on seeing his hedgehog tattoo.

SEALS (our elephant)
  • grey seals have a double chin
  • harbour seals look as if their head has been flattened (if you are looking at them head on)

There used to be an old bloke selling fish at Eyemouth, a fishing town just on the Scottish/English border. Tourists would buy a fish and then dunk it into the harbour where it was eaten by a spectacularly lucky, rather chubby seal.

In Norfolk at Blakeney Point you can take a boat trip to see a colony of seals. Several companies run these trips, leaving from Morston Quay.

There's also a small population of harbour seals in the Eastern Solent which can be spotted between Southampton and the Isle of Wight (see the report here).

It is a joy to see living seals - like all wildlife, look well but don't touch.

A safari tent at Node's Point holiday resort on the Isle of Wight.
You could structure your holiday around a Big 5 animal hunt on the
island - it's got seals and red squirrels, plus beautiful woods and beaches. (c) Park Resorts
RED SQUIRRELS (our leopard)

  • grey squirrels are non-native and seem to be everywhere (foresters and some gardeners find them very annoying)
  • red squirrels are native and rare

Our dog really dislikes grey squirrels
(this is his 'I've seen a squirrel face', now I will bark)
which may be why our family Big 5  list
is still missing a red squirrel.
I love the way grey squirrels chirrup, jump from tree to tree and are still crazy enough to be hand fed by people in city parks. But red squirrels are rather different, almost mythical creatures that revel in their secret hidey-holes. The best way to spot a red squirrel is to find a place where there aren't any grey squirrels - like the Isle of Wight. The National Trust woodland of oak and beech trees at Borthwood Copse has a red squirrel hide

A few years ago my family spent a day looking for red squirrels at Cragside, the huge Victorian pile in Northumberland. The estate is vast but there are meant to be lots of red squirrels here, even when it's raining.

However we couldn't find them and the website says if you are in the hide near the formal gardens and do see a red squirrel please tell the staff - so I guess it's pretty unusual.

Nell (left) isn't as keen on cows as her sister, Lola, or Dad.
POSH COWS (our buffalo)

  • Worldwide there are 800 breeds of cattle
  • Most dairy cows in the UK are Holstein-Friesian crosses
  • Native cows suit particular areas best - Aberdeen Angus (Scotland), Dexter (SW Ireland), Jersey, Guernsey

Talking to cows at an ice cream parlour
and tea shop in Yorkshire.
The Dinefwr white cattle have been at Dinefwr Castle, Wales for more than 1,000 years. With their long horns they look very different to the sweet-faced Jersey cows who are so good at creating cream - and they inspired novelist Eva Ibbotstone's wonderful children's story The Beasts of Clawstone Castle.

Visiting a farm that's set up for visitors is a great way for young children to see cows up close. Try seeing how many cow breeds you can identify if you are driving through farmland, or on a train.

Stumps arranged to encourage stag beetles to breed.
This is in a London park near Arsenal tube.
STAG BEETLES (our rhinoceros)

  • The vegan king of the mini-beast world (and able to fly, just)
  • People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) is asking the public to join their national great stag hunt, see how here.

In the south of England, especially in cities you can find stag beetles - as long as there is standing, rotting wood (stumps or piles) where they can oh-so-slowly metamorphosise from larvae into stag beetle and emerge above ground to look for a mate. I've spotted them in Brockwell Park, Lambeth. They may be living very close to you, so long as you aren't a compulsively tidy gardener. Allowing things to rot, and having wood and leaf piles helps wildlife so much. Ask your local nature park if they have a stag beetle site and if you do see one, take a photo on your mobile and send it the PTES.

Read a cute encounter with stag beetles here  and an informative one here

WOODPECKERS (our eagle)

  • All answer to the name Woody.
  • Boasting rights if you find a greater spotted woodpecker's feather (black, white & red).

Here the rat-tat-tat or the wah-wah-wah-wah cry in a wood and you need to look towards the sounds until you spot your woodpecker. There seem to be many more green woodpeckers, perhaps because these are often seen feeding on the ground where they will be looking for ants. Here's an ID guide to the three native woodpeckers.

WHERE TO STAY on a British Big 5 trip
Traditionally safari goers stay in a very posh tent - in the UK this is now known as glamping. And it's fantastic. Look around on the web to find places that offer glamping.  Of course you can still camp with a tent, but as Lola, now 17, explains, we don't camp much any more:

"When I was seven years old my parents took me on a camping holiday in the Lake District. That was camping with a C not a glamping trip. Whilst we had a very good time, every morning when we woke up it seemed as if the lake we were camping beside had got a little closer. And it had - we eventually had to abandon our tent! That's why I'd like to go glamping in the Isle of Wight - no lakes creeping into your tent, running water and comfortable beds without rocks under your sleeping bag. In fact it is the only way I'd consent to go on safari again!" Lola, 17

SPONSORED: Lola and Nicola were guests of Park Resorts on a day trip to see the new glamping facilities at their holiday resorts on the Isle of Wight:
  • The Isle of Wight can be reached in about two hours from Waterloo station, then take an Wight Link ferry at Portsmouth to Ryde (with its long sandy beach) or Fishbourne. http://www.wightlink.co.uk/iow/
  • Park Resorts has 48 UK holiday parks including the Lake District, three on the Isle of Wight and also along the Essex and Norfolk coasts. www.park-resorts.com

Over to you
Do share your family's big 5 adventures - and also any suggestions on where to find the animals, and where to stay. Thank you.

Monday, 22 June 2015

SPONSORED: Leicester offers an Indian bazzar and King Richard III detective story

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. A trip to Leicester’s newly opened King Richard III Visitor Centre impresses both a mum and her teenage daughter offering a mall, car-free streets, history with passion and the famous Leicester cuisine. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Look how people love to walk in the road in Leicester. Leicester City Centre is a great place for pedestrians - the 2009
street redesign won many awards. The Haymarket Memorial Clock is the centre of the car-free zone, about 10 mins easy
stroll to the station.
Leicester used to be famous chiefly for its Golden Mile of Indian restaurants, sari shops and stores along Belgrave and Melton Road, which is allegedly the closest the UK has to an Indian bazaar (even beating Brick Lane). But now say Leicester and whoever you are talking to will go, “isn’t that where they found the king in the car park?” 

It’s ironic really as Leicester is the most walking friendly city in the UK at the moment (this is my opinion, although York is a close contender). Back in the 1990s it had secured the crown for being a really bikeable city with loads of off-road cycle routes. Not everyone likes making massive cycle detours, but I’m sure the citizens of Leicester are suitably fit as a consequence.

But since 2009 the central part of Leicester is entirely car free. You can arrive at the train station (or use a park and ride, or a bus) and wander around on your feet in a shopping daze without fear you will be struck by a vehicle. And of course it’s quieter so easier to hear your companions chat as you stroll. Info about the redesign is here.

At the heart of the city is the Cathedral or Highcross Leicester mall – depending on your views.

The Cathedral garden is far lovelier
than this pic!
The Cathedral is surrounded by little lanes, dedicated to shopping and eating, and backed by the Guildhall and a Christian centre, which runs the very fine White Rose café. It is fronted by a beautifully designed wild garden which gives a wonderful feeling of meditative peace. And here’s the first clue of why we're here: a statue of Richard III who died “a king”, wearing his crown over his armour at the nearby Battle of Bosworth in 1485 – losing to Henry VII (Henry VIII’s dad).

Richard III’s body was lost for centuries, and then a determined screenplay writer, Phillipa Langley, read a biography on her holidays and developed a hunch the lost king must have been buried in a car park near the Cathedral. 

In February 2013 – after a long fundraising campaign and a tough-time getting the academics to take her seriously (but she managed it), a skeleton with a strangely shaped spine was discovered in the car park behind Alderman Newton school in what was once the site of Greyfriars Abbey.

Entrance and film in the arches at the Richard III Visitor Centre, Leicester.
Bad reputation
Richard III’s life is exciting for anyone, not just historians. His reputation has had to contend with Tudor propaganda (they were the winners of the Wars of the Roses after all) and Shakespeare’s unflattering portrait – acted over the years by stunning actors including Laurence Oliver, Ian McKellan and most recently Mark Rylance at the Globe. Plus there’s the tricky question of whether Richard III killed his nephews, the little princes who disappeared from the Tower of London under his watch.

At the newly opened King Richard III Visitor Centre visitors are encouraged to reconsider the evidence of what killed those princes. It’s a game, but the answers from the visitors reveal how very different this exhibition is:
  • Richard III killed them -8%
  • Normal causes killed the Princes - 10 %,
  • Lady Margaret Beaufort murdered them - 31%
  • Henry Tudor murdered them - 20 %
  • They were hidden - 10%
  • Duke of Buckingham murdered them - 9%

Portrait of Richard III (done after his death) and a model of his face, recreated using his skull - both at the King Richard III Visitor Centre. Richard III was only 32 when he died fighting at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. He'd been king since he took the crown in 1483.
Good PR – better late than never
On the ground floor, with only her knowledge of Richard III from seeing the play Nell, 14, reckoned he was a baddie. But by the time she’d read the rest of the information boards she, like the exhibition, was utterly pro-Richard III. Richard is handsome (his scoliosis wasn’t that bad and didn’t effect him much); Richard is a lawmaker who improved juries and bail conditions, insisted on fair trials and also saw that laws were written in English so easier to understand than when they had been in French or Latin.

I’m used to National Trust and English Heritage exhibitions that show you a rich person (or family) from the past and hint at how they lived. It makes you want to ask questions, but doesn’t excite like the Richard III story. 

Here you are caught up in the Leicester team’s joy as they discover that DNA from relatives on the female side match the DNA in the bones they’ve found (all but the King's feet were discovered, these seem to have been destroyed by earlier building work in the area). The skeleton in the car park really is Richard III. 

It’s like a detective story – history at its compelling best.

On the ground floor the info panels are exceptionally well presented, and easy to read. I also liked the way your tour starts by watching a film projected between arches, which makes the characters seem to mingle with the visitors. The info is often asked as a question, challenging how you think. 

Upstairs it’s all about the discovery, the teamwork with universities and the positive effective finding Richard III had on people living in Leicester. Anyone who is a fan of Time Team is going to love this.

Without doubt this is the best history exhibition I’ve seen.

So who else would enjoy it? It works best for thoughtful kids who can read, although the finale – the grave site with a light outlining the awkward way the king’s skeleton had been dumped in his grave, which you can walk over on a panel of glass - would intrigue any age. There’s also a café in the exhibit.  Nell is planning to do a history GCSE so it was ideal for her (and I think A level and uni students would be just as captivated), but there were some younger Brownies going around who seemed to be finding Richard III’s story far more interesting than they’d expected when the Brown Owl told them about the visit.

Throughout our trip we could hear Leicester Cathedral bells peeling – a nice touch, but it was a special day with services to celebrate 800 years of the Magna Carta. But that’s another blog post…

  • Visiting the Richard III Visitor Centre, 4a St Martins, Leicester, LE1 costs adult £7.95, student £7, child (5-15) £4.95, family ticket of 2 adults, 2 children £21.50. Booking advised.    @KRIIICentre
  • More about bike lanes and car free routes in Leicester in my book The Estate We’re In: who’s driving car culture? (Indigo, 1998), available also as an ebook here
  • Highcross Leicester open mon-tues, thurs-fri 9am-6pm; wed 9am-8pm, sat 9am-7pm and sun 11am-5pm  @highcross


Wednesday, 17 June 2015

SPONSORED: The past may be another country, but space is another world…

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. So what can you do in Leicestershire or nearby - a stay, play, explore deal with one night away helps a mum and teenage daughter explore new worlds and learn about the space race. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Nell poses at the National Space Centre. (c) aroundbritainnoplane/nicola baird
On 14 June 2015 the Philae comet lander woke up after a seven months silence and contacted the European Space Agency - helping the Rosetta Space Mission push frontiers 300 million miles away from Earth

As I was growing up the space race was an ever-constant part of the news. 

We even had mini models of astronauts in our breakfast cereal.

I’ve always talked a bit of science to my kids, particularly on environmental issues, while their Dad does the space chats. But as we use solar thermal to heat our water in the summer (on sunny days) we were quite amused that poor Philae couldn’t operate until its solar panels received enough sunlight to power up. 

Solar is great, but you do have to adapt to nature’s rhythms wherever you are in the solar system.

And so as the Philae sends its message home, my 14-year-old daughter, Nell, and I are exploring the National Space Centre in Leicester. This strange looking £52-million building, designed by Grimshaw, has become a Leicester skyline landmark since it was completed in 2001. It’s at least six storeys high and inside there are two rockets, one from the US and one from the USSR (which was then known as CCCP). More on wikipedia here.

Nell was captivated by the National Space Centre, probably because of its mix of inter-active scientific process and historical story-telling. We arrived just in time for the first (free) film, We are aliens, narrated by Rupert Grint who is Ron in Harry Potter and shown in the planetarium. The film set the tone perfectly, encouraging us to explore space by trying out all the centre’s gadgets. There were lots of young families, but also a large party of young people with special needs, and me and my teen yet it seemed that all of us were kept interested and few of us had to queue to have-a-go – quite a triumph of exhibition planning.

Soon I was reading words like infra red wavelengths, microorganisms, scale model with proper understanding and not even laughing at acronyms such as ELT (extremely large telescope). 

Nell was happy redesigning her face via a computer so she looked like an alien (I can see this would make a good Zoella vlog), and then testing to see if she could join the space programme as a pilot. 

We’d spent two hours and were feeling very scientific… and then we realised we hadn’t yet been to see the rockets (see pic above).

Look closely at the logo - it's the horn and the hoof.
First triumph was Nell working out that the old Soviet symbol was parodied by George Orwell in Animal Farm (a book Year 9 reads at school) as the sign of the horn and the hoof. The exhibit in the National Space Centre tower is about the space race – triumphs and tragedies, especially for the unfortunate animals who got blasted off including space dog Laika (dies 1957/USSR) and the three space mice (one dies 1958/USA). Then in 1961 Yuri Gagarin (USSR) was the first man to go into space (and come back too), using a rocket that didn’t have a 100 per cent track record. And then there’s the “small step for man… giant leap for mankind” when Neil Armstrong (USA) walks on the moon’s surface in 1969.

The National Space Centre tracks these developments with music, fashion and even home décor. There's even an old style phone that rings so you can have a go answering it. "Hello, hello anyone out there?"

This activity (see 2 photos above) needs two teams, one in mission control (on the left/top) and one in the rocket (on the right/bottom). With two other families we'd never met, we eventually worked out how to solve the gravity pressure problems and using the walkie-talkie communicator launched our rocket - one mum and three toddlers. There were high fives all round. (c) aroundbritainnoplane/nicola baird
There are a lot of space countdowns and steam, but overall the National Space Centre makes learning so effortless that time whizzes past as your brain expands. I had to drag Nell away – three and a half hours after we’d arrived. Definitely a top choice for any age (yes, even aged 51 I enjoyed making a brass rubbing of an astronaut which I plan to pass to my older daughter should she forget to make a father's day gift).

Getting back to the centre of Leicester was easy too. We just took the bus near Asda - a five minute walk away. Unlike London buses (where I live), Leicester buses have a map of their planned route painted on the inside. It makes journeys into places you've never been, far easier. Anyone coming by car needs £2 to park at the National Space Centre.  Now that Leicester city centre is fully pedestrianised, it's a much easier place to navigate and there's also really clear signage.

Japanese garden and pond at
the Hilton Leicester. Stay here
as part of the stay-play-expore deal.
As part of the stay-play-explore package that GoLeicester is promoting, see below, and which makes family trips affordable and simple, we went to the National Space Centre, and on the previous day also visited Conkers, a fab play centre where you can build dens and learn to make a fire powerful enough to toast marshmallows on, see the review here

  • National Space Centre, Exploration Drive, Leicester, LE4 - costs £13 for an adult ticket and £11 for a child (5-16). Under 5s are free. Open tues-fri 10-4, sat and sun 10-5.


Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Why choosing British grown flowers makes sense

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. Sometimes it's not just where we go that needs tabs kept on it, but what we buy. For example 90 per cent of cut flowers used in the UK are flown into Britain from Holland, Kenya and other countries. This is surely a crazy practice for a nation of talented gardeners. Here's how one green-fingered Yorkshire woman, Fleur Butler, is hoping to change this with her new business Fleur's Garden. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Fleur Butler from Fleur’s Garden in north Yorkshire: “Everyone should have more confidence with flowers. If you buy my plants anyone can do flower arranging. For the whole of the summer you can have fresh flowers from your garden. The flowers are sustainably grown (and many will grow again next year) and benefit insects. Also there are no carbon miles and you’ve got flowers you can’t buy in the shops.”
The wonderful cherry blossom in Finghall, a little paradise in North Yorkshire, seems to be as much about the arrival of spring 2015 as the birth of a new business promoting British cut flowers, Fleur’s Garden. I've been a friend of Fleur Butler, who runs Fleur's Garden, since she was a teenager so it was a pleasure to take a train trip to north Yorkshire and find out more about why you should pick British-grown flowers for your displays - not just for cheering up the kitchen, but also for life's big events including weddings and funerals.

“I’ve just started Fleur’s Garden, but for 20 years my hobby has been gardening. I’ve been passionate about flowers and gardens all my life,” says Fleur Butler arranging a fabulous vase of her homegrown tulips.  To launch the new business Fleur, 47, is using the skills she’s learnt as a mum, working as a project manager and experience as the leader of Richmondshire District council.

“I’ve always cared about people and the environment so it is depressing that supermarkets stock a small range of chemically-fed flowers which have been flown in from 1,000s of miles around the world. We should be so proud of what we can produce at home in England.”

Fleur’s Garden sells local, sustainable, British-grown flowers for weddings, memorials and just to make your life light up. Here's the first stall she set up at the end of her drive.
That’s why she’s set up Fleur’s Garden – to sell local and sustainably-grown, British flowers for weddings, memorials and your home.

“I want to encourage other people to increase the range of flowers they can cut from their garden. People don’t realise that 90 per cent of flowers bought in Britain are grown abroad – so there are thousands of air miles in each bouquet,” says Fleur.

Flowers are more than a business for Fleur. 

“Gardening and flowers have been a lovely antidote to dealing with my four sons while working on community projects,” says Fleur modestly. Her c/v would tell you that she’s been an active councillor for eight years, stood as an MEP candidate for Yorkshire & Humber and monitored elections in Georgia and Croatia. But now her sons are bigger and she’s stepping back from politics because “over the past year I realised I wanted to work on something I felt totally driven about. And then I had an electric light bulb moment when I remember I was called Fleur – which means flower in French. I ought to be working with flower, for flowers and about flowers.”

Barrowloads of muck work as a weed suppressant and give a natural 
boost of growing power to the flowers in Fleur's Garden.
Six tips for cut flowers - tips from Fleur's Garden 
1 Flowers are less fussy and much easier to grow than vegetables.
2 A packet of flower seeds may cost £1.99, but you only need to sow a small amount. Then save and use again before the expiry date.
3 Choose seeds or potted on flowers that you can’t buy in a florist like cosmos or long-stemmed marigolds.
4 Plant a forget-me-not and let it self-sow. They are so pretty: how can anyone think of them as a weed?
5 Dahlias have fabulous strong colourful flowers, they look good in the garden and in displays, and will go on until the first frosts. I live and work in north Yorkshire but down south you don’t even need to dig them up if they are in a frost area during the winter.
6 If you are lucky enough to have a garden try growing long stemmed orange marigolds (annuals) in your vegetable patch, because they are good for the bees and look fabulous in a vase.
Right now Fleur is experimenting with more than 250 varieties of flowers and has plans to open her cutting garden for DIY picking for flower arrangers.

“For me choosing favourites is nearly impossible. This April and May I’ve been stunned by the different varieties of tulips – some are like large double dollops of ice cream and others are delicate with wrinkled edges or even have pink and green strips. And there’s nothing like the humble forget-me-not with its little blue stars balanced by the white blossom of early spirea – two plants you cannot buy in the shops.

“Some shrubs and plants come back every year (perennials) to use as foliage. One thing it is very hard to find in florists is decent foliage, but foliage makes the bunch – if it is all flower and no green it’s rather like having a pudding of cream and no fruit.

She has set up a website with online tips (see www.fleurbutler.co.uk) and at weekends has a garden gate stall with an honesty box. “I hope people will use the stall to increase the range of flowers they can cut from their garden so I’m selling young plants they can grow on at home.”

Jam jar lovelies from Fleur's Garden: If you have short-stemmed flowers try displaying in a jam jar
for a lovely splash of British grown colour and fragrance.
Make your own jam jar lovelies
Tips from Fleur’s Garden
  • Everyone has a spare jam jar, you don’t even need to scrub the label off – just fill with your own homegrown cutting flowers.
  •  Lots of shorter-stemmed flowers get thrown out by florists, but you can make lovely displays with shorter-stemmed flowers like primulas, marigolds, blue and pink liverwort with its white-spotted leaves and shorter tulips.
  •  Forget-me-nots can last 10 days in a jam jar.
  •  If the weather’s been bad and the garden is still too chilly to sit in, pick a handful of flowers, put them into a jam jar, and brighten up your kitchen.

Fleur loves the way her new business has been inspired by her family. During her political years she was often introduced as the grand-daughter of RAB Butler MP, who was famously dubbed “the best Prime Minister we never had”. Now she can talk about her memories of her grandmother’s Essex garden where the “Bumble bees were buzzing over the santalina and you could smell the heat and warmth of the soil and grass. I especially liked her miniature strawberries, so now Fleur’s Garden is growing mini-strawberries, a variety know as fraise du bois. I hope people will plant these and just as I did with my boys have fun seeing their children wandering into the garden and putting their heads into the flower beds to pick the strawberries.”

 A spot under the cherry blossom to sit and think at Fleur’s Garden, with views over Yorkshire.
“I’ve also been inspired by my third cousin, Georgie Newberry who runs Common Farm Flowers in Somerset,” adds Fleur. “It’s a business which grows flowers for weddings and is all about sustainability and working with nature – a way for beautiful brides to enjoy flowers which are grown benefitting insects, and birds too – and something I will be doing too.”

During winter 2014-15 Fleur’s Garden has already provided funeral wreaths. “I found that discussing with the bereaved family how special the flowers that we were using to the deceased was quite cathartic,” says Fleur. “I can make funeral wreaths from my flowers or use what’s in your own garden.”

Over to you
As the longer days approach and your garden wakes up now is a great time to plant a few more flowers. Get them growing well and you’ll be able to cut your own flowers to create your own lovely displays. Flowers can be comforting, dramatic or just cheer up a dreary room – so if you want help doing this, especially if you live close to the Yorkshire Dales (or can go on line) contact Fleur Butler at Fleur’s Garden. 

Another option is to have a look at all the wonderful flowers people are growing. One mum, Tania Pascoe, so enjoyed taking her child to look at gardens that she has written a book about possible trips, Wild Garden Weekends. National open garden days, botanical gardens or even Kew Gardens in London are also excellent ways of looking at what can grow. It's June, you've got time to start growing your own flowers this year, but you could also soak up inspiration via garden visits ready for the 2016 planting season.

  • Fleur's Garden (Yorkshire & by post)
  • Common Farm Flowers (Somerset & by post)
  • Scilly Flowers (Scilly Isles & by post) - a huge family run flower farm specialising in early scented blooms (narcissi) and summer boquets. A great gift to help friends celebrate birthdays, parties and occasions like mother's day.
  • Have fun looking at wild gardens with your family to inspire your own planting scheme. Have a look at Tania Pascoe's book Wild Garden Weekends.
  • http://www.kew.org/
  • Here's a list of some of the gardens around the UK that are occasionally open to the public. If you've missed the date you can always pop your head over the hedge/wall and see what's blooming.