3 Expert Tips to Help you Make the Most of your Pension

New research suggests many of us now value our pensions more amid the coronavirus pandemic. Vicky Shaw finds out more.

The pandemic has made many of us value our pensions even more than usual – and this is particularly the case if you have a ‘gold-plated’ final salary pension – new research suggests.

Legal & General surveyed grandparents and parents across the UK to discover how the Covid-19 crisis had made them think differently about their personal finances.

A fifth (21%) of those with a defined benefit (DB) pension scheme say they value the security of their pension more due to the pandemic.

DB schemes promise savers a certain level of income in retirement, based on their salary, such as final salary pensions. They have become rarer, however, as they’re expensive to run. Many employers nowadays offer defined contribution (DC) pension schemes instead – where the retirement income you’ll get depends on factors such as how well investments perform.

The research found 15% of those with DC pensions now value their savings pots more.

Pension savers may gift more to loved ones

The findings also show that one in 10 (10%) with a DB pension say the security of their retirement income has made them more likely to gift or loan money to loved ones as part of their retirement plans. They’re twice as likely to do this as those with a DC pension, with just one in 20 (5%) saying this.

Laura Mason, chief executive officer, Legal & General Retirement Institutional (LGRI), which helps DB schemes to settle their pension obligations, says: “The events of this year have led to uncertainty for many and, understandably, more people are thinking about their pension income in retirement and how it will affect their loved ones.”

3 top tips for retirement savers

David Poulton, chief customer officer, LGRI, says: “It is worthwhile for those in, or approaching, retirement to consider these three tips to ensure they’re getting the most out of their DB pension scheme.”

Here’s what Legal & General suggests…

1. Check you’re aware of all of your pension schemes

Many people will have worked for several employers in their lifetime. Even if you only worked at a company for a few months, there’s a chance there was a pension. Schemes generally send annual updates in the post, but if you think you have ‘lost’ a pension, consider trying the Government’s Pension Tracing Service.

2. Find out if you still have money left

You may think that you’ve taken all of your money out – but you may not be receiving all of the benefits you’re entitled to – or you could still have money to draw down. Once you’ve tracked down all of your DB pension schemes, ensure you know what’s left in each and that you receive annual updates.

3. Beware of scams

Scammers will target pensions. This can happen over email, the phone, or through fraudulent websites. Be aware, be vigilant, and never be rushed into making a decision. For more guidance, go to the Action Fraud website (

12 Boozy Gift Boxes to Delight the Wine or Spirit Lover in your Life

Perfectly packed and guaranteed to go down a treat, Sam Wylie-Harris rustles up this year’s best boozy gift boxes.

If you really want to box clever this Christmas, chances are you’ll find everything you need in the wine and spirit department.

Well-wrapped and attractively styled, there’s a boozy gift box to suit all tastes.

Here’s our pick of the bunch…

1. The Wine Society The Bellini Case, £22.50, The Wine Society

A new kind of prosecco experience with all the trimmings, The Wine Society have struck gold with their Bellini gift box, which includes a 25cl bottle of Van Nahmen Rhubarb Nectar and Van Nahmen White Peach Nectar. Tart and sweet Italian style – saluti!

2. Nyetimber Classic Cuvée Multi-Vintage Gift Box, £36.99, Nyetimber

One of England’s finest sparkling wines, Nyetimber have gone to town with their London Christmas Scene limited-edition box, adorned with gold snowflakes and illustrations of iconic landmarks such as Big Ben, The Tower of London and London Eye – with some fabulous fizz inside.

3. The Kraken Black Spiced Rum Unknown Deep Limited Edition, £36.75, Amazon

It needs little introduction for dark rum fans – The Kraken is one of the most prized spiced rums out there. This new-look glossy black bottle, embossed with ancient gold currency, is the first in a special-edition series, themed around a mythical story of a deep-sea expedition to find the elusive beast. Plus, The Kraken are donating a £1 from every bottle sold to the marine conversation charity, Project Aware: Dive Against Debris.

4. House of Suntory Roku Japanese Gin Gift Box, £38.50, Harvey Nichols

Crafted from six Japanese botanicals (roku means six in Japanese), as well as traditional gin botanicals (juniper, lemon peel, coriander, etc), this fragrant gin is presented in a pretty cherry blossom gift box. Yuzu citrusy top notes, cherry blossom, spicy sansho pepper and green tea make themselves known in perfect harmony.

5. Retro Gin Fridge – That Boutique-y Gin Company, £39.90, The Whisky World

With old-school looks and styling inspired by the 1950s, and eight 5cl bottles to enjoy, this must be the cutest pressie to pop under the tree. Of course, it won’t freeze your ice trays or martini glass, but who wouldn’t want to chill out with a shot of Yuzu, Smoked Rosemary or Ginger Lime Gin come the big day?

6. Christmas Day Mixed Wine and Prosecco Gift Box, £39.99, Virgin Wines

The world of wine is so huge, where to start if you want to narrow it down to a tip-top trio? Virgin Wines have done the hard work for you here, with their German pinot noir from the famous Pfalz region, crowd-pleasing Aussie sauvignon blanc and super popular Senti prosecco – plus the added bonus of a personalised gift message.

7. St-Germain Winter Bloom Bauble & Spritz Kit, £40, Hedges and Flowers

Baubles in bloom… St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur have teamed up with Hedges and Flowers floral design studio to create this luxurious spritz kit, which includes a bottle of the famous French floral liqueur, glass carafe, two art deco gold rimmed glasses and four handmade glass baubles filled with dried flowers, finished with a velvet ribbon for hanging. Did someone say deck the halls with cocktails and curios? We’re in.

8. Laurent-Perrier La Cuvée Champagne NV & 2 Branded Flutes Gift Box, £50, The Champagne Company

A chic carry case with all the trimmings, Laurent Perrier’s bag of tricks includes a bottle of their beautifully fresh and elegant La Cuvée Brut, with two tulip shaped glass flutes to enhance the steady stream of bubbles with all the bells and whistles.

9. Specially Yours Moët & Chandon Personalisable Gift Boxes: Imperial Brut Personalisable Metal Gift Box, £50, Rosé Imperial Personalisable Metal Gift Box, £59, Clos 19

Santa’s workshop has been busying itself with these personalized metal gift tins to ring out your message loud and clear. Dressed in winter white or rosy pink, Specially Yours celebrates the most wonderful time of the year to pop the corks!

10. Patrón Silver Tequila – Día De Muertos, £54.99,

Top of our tequila wish list, Patrón Silver are also encouraging us to explore personalised options courtesy of Inkd – and their whimsy limited-edition bottle inspired by Day of the Dead, the Mexican holiday which brings families together to celebrate life and death. Adorned with butterflies, marigolds and sugar skull, it’s a beautifully crafted little gem from Jalisco.

11. Berry Bros & Rudd Extra Ordinary Gift Set, £95, Berry Bros & Rudd

Sometimes, it’s all in the detail. This chic set stars two benchmark bottles from Bordeaux: Berry Bros & Rudd Extra Ordinary White and Extra Ordinary Claret. Plus Berry’s own label grand cru champagne, a champagne stopper and corkscrew, along with illustrated tote bag. One to delight wine enthusiasts and oenophiles.

12. Home of Bombay Hamper, £120, Bombay Sapphire

A gin palace to call their own, this hamper is no mere afterthought for the gin lover in your life. Nestled inside are five fabulous (70cl) expressions: Bombay Sapphire, Bombay Dry, Bombay Sapphire English Estate, Bombay East, and Bombay Bramble. Plus a long twisted bar spoon and jigger to put the jingle and joy into Christmas when they rustle up the first G&T.

16 of the Best Christmas Gifts for Gardeners

From gorgeous garden wear and robust tools to heavenly houseplants, check out our gift guide for gardeners.

Whether the person you are buying for is new grower or an experienced green-fingered guru, there is a wealth of gifts out there that they will love this Christmas.

And as well as sorting your festive shopping for gardening friends or relatives, a scroll through our top 16 presents might just provide some inspiration for your own wish list.

Here’s our pick of the gifts for gardeners indoors and out.

1. Dexshell Fair Isle Waterproof Beanie (£25,

This waterproof Fair Isle beanie is a must for gardeners who don’t let rain dampen their spirits or put paid to their efforts in the garden. It’ll keep gardeners warm and dry with its super-soft fleece lining and wind-and-rainproof membrane.

2. Personalised fork and trowel set (£25.87, Amazon)

You can personalise this traditional wooden-handled stainless steel fork and trowel set with own message or perhaps the recipient’s name. Each tool can have up to 30 characters.

3. A Christmas Cook’s Garden (£20, The Gluttonous Gardener,

This festive gift set gives you the ingredients you need to grow your own herbs, along with aromatic spices for mulled wine. The pack includes seeds for sage, rosemary and thyme, as well as cinnamon sticks, cloves and star anise, along with growing instructions and recipes.

4. Upcycled vintage spoon garden plant markers (£15 for set of three, Amazon)

If you’re into vintage, you’ll love this set of three upcycled vintage teaspoon garden markers which can be personalised with the plant, vegetable or herb name of your choice. The spoons have been flattened and the words are hand-stamped onto them, so perfect for the gardener who has everything.

5. Caledonian Tiered Raised Bed (£121.99,

Another space-saver for people who want to grow flowers, fruit and veg but don’t have enough room – the answer is to grow upwards. This planter can hold 250L of compost and the frame comes pre-notched so is quick and easy to assemble. Remember to line the trough with a permeable membrane if you are using it to grow food.

6. Barry’s Cactus Club subscription (£15 for a one-time gift; £42 for a 3 month subscription; £156 for 12 month subscription,

This is a brilliant idea for people who love these prickly plants and want to get a bit of a collection going, to put on their desk, or line up on shelves or windowsills. Each month the recipient will receive a surprise mini cactus or succulent and a specially designed ceramic pot that you won’t find anywhere else, plus in the first box you’ll get a few other goodies. Perfect for those who like low maintenance plants and fancy some new desk buddies.

7. Wildlife Letterbox Gift (£19.99, Suttons,

Letterbox gift sets have now landed at Suttons for you to send to friends and relatives who aren’t going to be joining you during the festive season. You can choose from five different types – from chilli, herb, fragrant, vegetable and wildlife. The wildlife set comes with floral seed mixes, twine, mini secateurs, exfoliating soap and a pressed flower kit.

8. Veritable Classic Garden White Indoor cultivation garden (£137.10, Amazon)

This ingenious high-tech self-sufficient garden incorporates lighting with a colour spectrum adapted specifically for edible plants, enabling you to grow herbs all year round easily indoors. You don’t need any natural light, its clever automatic irrigation system will water plants for three to four weeks, and it comes with four seed kits so you can get growing straight away.

9. Iris & Lady Moore Charity Candle (£49, Jo Malone,

A gorgeous irises design adorns the casing of this deliciously scented charity candle, which has a burn time of around 45 hours. For each charity candle you buy, Jo Malone will make a donation equal to 75% of the price to charities which support people affected by mental health.

10. Cast iron boot brush and jack (£23.95, Harrod Horticultural,

This is a must for those of us who struggle to remove their muddy boots at the end of the day and don’t know where to start when it comes to cleaning them. The tough brush bristles should remove a lot of the dirt, while the specially shaped jack will prise off the tightest boots.

11. House of Plants game (£14.99 Dobbies Garden Centres, in store only)

Who doesn’t love a Christmas game? And when it has a gardening theme even better for the green-fingered among us. The plant-themed card game is perfect for millennials and plant lovers as they build up their own urban jungles.

12. Priestlands Birch Scrub-Up and Celebrate gift set (£32.99,

After a long day of gardening, pamper yourself with these soaps, dry skin rescue oil and lip balm, and there’s even a spirit you can serve over ice – all derived from various parts of the birch tree.

13. Jane coin purse – Bumblebee Garden (£44.95,

This beautiful new handmade range, The Bee Garden Collection, is a new collaboration between Will Bees Bespoke and former head of design at Liberty Art Fabrics, Emma Mawston, featuring designs inspired by the flora and bees native to Devon and Cornwall. Handmade in England, with free personalisation – you can have the purse embossed with initials – it also comes with a small pack of wildflower seeds to attract bees.

14. Trumpet peony plant support (from £34, Harrod Horticultural,

There are some really stylish plant supports on the market – but some are less noticeable and let the plants do the talking and, if that’s your preference, this rust-coloured peony support fits the bill. Available in two heights and four diameters, it will keep your plants propped up without stealing their thunder.

15. Festive Kilner (from £7.50, Rosebud Preserves,

Festive mincemeat, chutney, marmalade and pickle all go down well at Christmas, but if your loved one fancies a go at making their own next year, these robust Kilner jars from Rosebud which come packed with flavoursome fare can be reused next year when gardening fans want to have a go at preserving their own harvests.

16. Personalised gardening calendar (£14.99,

Planning for the next season is always high on the gardener’s list of to-dos, so let them see in the New Year with a personalised gardening calendar so they can pencil in those garden visits, plan their gardening schedule and admire their own name in a variety of garden settings with each calendar month.

Autumn-clean your Garden Tools and Buildings for a Head Start in Spring

Tidy up your growing space to steal a march on spring, with tips from the RHS.

As the days get shorter and temperatures drop, it may seem as though there’s not much left to do in the garden between now and next spring.

But there’s still time to join in the Royal Horticultural Society ‘Grow At Home This Autumn’ campaign, which aims to guide the thousands of gardeners who took up the hobby for the first time during the pandemic through this crucial time of the year.

The final week of the campaign is ‘Autumn Clean Week’ which, as RHS chief horticulturist Guy Barter explains, may not be the most glamorous of jobs but is vital to the health of plants and wildlife in the garden.

“Many people, including seasoned gardeners, don’t realise that an autumn clean and tidy-up in the garden is as important as a spring clean in your home,” says Barter. “By taking care of a few simple jobs now, you can give yourself a head-start for the next growing season, and ensure garden plants have the conditions they need to thrive throughout the winter.”

Barter shares the cleaning and tidying jobs you should be doing now…

Greenhouses and tools

“Get rid of spores and pest eggs by cleansing greenhouses with hot detergent and garden disinfectant, remembering to scrub over concrete floors and replace soiled gravel,” he advises.

Light levels are very low indeed in winter and grubby glass will exclude much light if not washed clean, not forgetting to remove moss and algae from beneath overlapping panes. Caulk any leaks with clear silicone mastic and replace any cracked panes at the same time.

“Compost any unwanted plant material and eradicate weeds, as weeds are reservoirs of pests and diseases,” he adds.

Stainless steel tools merely need a scrape clean, Barter explains, but those made of ordinary steel may rust unless cleaned well and oiled.

Lawnmowers and power tools may also rust in a damp shed unless exposed metal is oiled or paint retouched – you might as well sharpen them and change the oil now that there’s less to do in the garden.

Alternatively, take them to a garden machinery workshop for professional sharpening and servicing.

This is also a good time to clean and store plastic pots, seed trays and modules so they are ready for reuse next year.

Winter protection

“Unheated greenhouses are unlikely to exclude frost, so the tenderest plants, aeoniums and tradescantia, say, are best brought indoors to a suitable windowsill or ideally a conservatory,” he advises.

“Pruned and well-wrapped dahlias and canna will survive in a shed or even left in well-drained ground in milder regions, ideally under a 9cm layer of bark mulch.

“Abutilon, fuchsia and other tender shrubs can survive in a greenhouse or sheltered spot if protected by fleece, while hardy plants that don’t appreciate a rainy British winter, garden chrysanthemums for example, will survive well under a cloche.”

However, if you’re thinking about adding an extra layer of protection to your greenhouse, Barter warns: “Insulating greenhouses with bubble wrap cuts out much light and is best kept to the bare minimum – this also reduces plastic waste.”


With light levels much lower at this time of year, taking the time to clean accumulated dust from the leaves of houseplants will help them take up all the available light to stay healthy throughout the winter.

Barter suggests taking houseplants outside on a mild rainy day and letting the rain wash them clean, perhaps applying some ‘leaf shine’ when they return indoors.

“Go easy on watering through the winter and hold off on feeding and repotting until the sun comes up again in April,” Barter suggests. Plants that have been sheltering from scorching summer heat in north facing windowsills can return to their winter position in a south facing windowsill.

Consider a low energy LED growing light in dark homes with limited suitable windowsill space, to give your houseplants a boost during the winter.

Pick off any dead leaves now and take the opportunity to rub out pests, too. However, if your houseplants show symptoms of mealybug, this is virtually incurable and infested plants are best replaced.

For more tips, advice and videos to help you get involved with the RHS Grow At Home campaign, visit

10 Ways to be More Ethical with your Money

Keen to give your finances an ethical revamp? Vicky Shaw finds out how to get started.

The pandemic is prompting people to consider more ethical places to keep their money, according to research.

Triodos Bank found over a fifth (22%) of investors say they now feel motivated to explore investing in ethical funds, rising to 35% of under-35s.

Investing is just one of the ways you can use your hard-earned money to support good causes, as well as the environment. There could be plenty of other options for giving your finances an ethical makeover – and it may not be as hard as you think to get started.

Charlene Cranny, campaigns and communications director at Good Money Week (Oct 24-30), which aims to help grow and raise awareness of sustainable, responsible and ethical finance, says: “It’s easy to get bogged down with where to start when planning to give your finances a green overhaul, but there’s no need to be overwhelmed. There are so many easy ways to make greener, cleaner and kinder decisions with our money.

“People who are making steps to reduce their personal impact on the environment might already be reusing coffee cups, bags and bottles, cycling rather than driving, but might not have even thought about where their money is being invested, spent and banked, which can have a huge impact on the environment.”

Here are 10 suggestions from Good Money Week to give your finances an ethical overhaul…

1. Switch current account

Banks use the deposits in the accounts held with them to fund their other banking activities, from loans to investments. This means your money could be funding all sorts of projects that you don’t agree with. Thanks to the Current Account Switch Service, it’s easy to move to an ethical current account.

2. Change energy provider

The number of providers supplying renewable energy in the UK has increased in recent years – and did you know you can compare green energy suppliers? With the Big Clean Switch (, you can quickly search for planet-friendly gas and electricity suppliers.

3. Shop local

We should all be shopping mindfully and avoiding wasteful purchasing, but when you do need to shop, try going local. Plus, when you shop at the local butcher’s, baker’s, farm shop and greengrocer, a good bulk of the produce has had a relatively short ‘field to fork’ journey. As well as supporting local farmers, this means the food could be wrapped in less single-use plastic packaging.

4. Invest your pension ethically

Your pension can have a huge impact on people and the planet. Pension scheme Nest, for example, recently announced a new climate change policy. Ask your boss or your financial adviser about how ethical your provider is.

5. Move your savings

Although it may feel like sometimes the returns are very low, remember your savings are being put somewhere, working for a company or business somewhere else, so if you aren’t happy, make the move.

6. Consider investments

Abundance is an online platform which offers investments that create something good for the environment and society. Remember though that, as with other investment products, there are risks. Energy4all could also be a good place to start if you want to get involved in something at a local level.

7. Borrow rather than buy

Borrowing existing items, rather than buying new, is kinder to the planet. Some websites will also allow people to borrow items for a set period of time. And if you don’t want to borrow, there are also websites such as Freecycle, where you can get unwanted items for free.

8. Take part in Black Pound Day

Black Pound Day supports and raises awareness of businesses owned by black people. More than simply one day per year, Black Pound Day is a monthly campaign that encourages consumers to switch up their usual shopping destinations to local and online businesses.

9. Lend a small amount of money

If you are fortunate to be able to, you may want to consider lending a little money to someone in the developing world, who is trying to lift themselves out of poverty by running their own business. allows people to lend relatively small sums to people and the money is later repaid. The website cautions though that due to the pandemic, there is a higher risk than normal that repayments will be late or deferred, and in some ‘rare cases’ loans may be written off.

10. Donate to foodbanks

If you are able, buying supplies for your local food bank can be a real help to people in need in your local area, or you could donate monthly through their website.

Kitchen Cool: 13 Ways to Serve up a Feast of Style

Whether it’s a full-blown revamp or simple updates, Gabrielle Fagan stirs up some style solutions for the heart of the home.

Our kitchens are having to work harder than ever these days, as we’re spending more time in them – and we’re not just using them to cook up a storm.

That eating area now has to be able to perform as a family space, an entertaining zone, and maybe a home office for many of us too. So it needs to not only look the business, but to function well to facilitate our busy and multi-layered home lives.

Looking to give your kitchen an update? Follow our recipe for creating the perfect kitchen in your home, whatever your budget…

1. Island story

An island is still the most coveted design feature in a kitchen – and it’s easy to see why. It’s invaluable as a preparation area, and means you can flex your culinary skills without turning your back on the party.

“Kitchen islands and breakfast bars offer a versatile and adaptable space that can be used in so many ways,” says Joanne Emery, marketing manager at Burbidge.

“They can create zones in your area, giving the illusion of two separate functional rooms, whilst keeping the room clutter-free by providing additional storage. Consider incorporating open shelving for items you use frequently.”

2. Dark matters

Black is a design classic, whether for clothes or kitchen units, and paired with a metallic it’s a recipe for sophistication.

Choose handles, taps and kitchen accessories in brass, copper or bronze – the finishes which have taken over from last year’s polished chrome.

3. Cooking with colour

Our growing desire for colourful spaces is reflected in more vivid kitchen cabinetry and ‘colour pops’, which allow for a more playful, individual look.

If you’re worried you may tire of units or tiles in a vibrant shade, or they’ll look dated as fashions move on, simply shake up the space with colourful accessories instead.

Paintings, storage canisters, or worktop appliances in funky shades could be just the colour ‘pop’ you need, and they can be easily moved or updated in the future.

4. Double identity

There’s a real trend for kitchens to feel like extensions of living rooms now too. Our home-based lifestyle means we want spaces where it’s easy to cook for the family during the day, but have the ‘wow’ factor to transform into striking evening entertainment spaces at night, or just somewhere to relax and unwind.

Ensure your colour scheme in both areas – the kitchen and the lounge area – harmonises, which will make the space look bigger and blend together.

5. Savvy switch up

If a full-scale revamp is out of the question, don’t underestimate the power of replacing cabinet door fronts, which can transform your kitchen at a fraction of the cost of a refit.

If you’re into DIY, repainting kitchen units is fairly straightforward – but ensure you prepare the surface well beforehand, by lightly sanding, cleaning with white spirit, and applying two coats of paint. B&Q has a good range of cabinet paint, including the GoodHome Durable Delaware Matt Cabinet & Wardrobe Paint, £20 for 0.75L.

For a final flourish, invest in new handles and light switches to give the room an extra lift.

6. Ace the space

If you haven’t got acres of space to work with, you need to make the most of ever corner. A cook’s trolley, a hanging rack for utensils, and ceiling-height cupboards can all be a boon – and the plus point is everything will be within easy each.

7. Pendant power

Move over spotlights and track lighting – pendant lights currently rule in kitchens. One statement light, or a group of three, will brilliantly define a selected space, such as a kitchen island or dining area.

8. Make a splash

Swapping a tiled splashback for a striking mural will take a kitchen from functional to fabulous.

“Murals never fail in adding impact and are brilliant for adding drama and depth, giving an illusion of looking out onto a different scene, view or landscape. They can have a magical effect on a room,” says Michael Ayerst, managing director of Surface View, who recreate images on made-to-measure wall murals, canvasses, blinds and ceramic tiles.

Gilded Paper Wallpaper Mural by Richard Hamilton Smith GS, from the Trunk Archive at Surface View, from £40 per square metre,

9. Modern mix

“The enduring trend for kitchens is about mixing it up, whether that’s with contrasting materials such as wood and metallics, or textured and smooth finishes,” says Gary Griffin, UK sales manager UK at Rational (

“Cabinets incorporating the grain and beauty of timber are one of the keynote features of 2020. It’s hardly surprising, as natural materials such as wood suit both contemporary and classic homes and this is a great way to ensure that, no matter what your design choice, your home has a warm, relaxed feel.”

Whilst neutral palettes remain popular, Griffin notes there’s been a move towards the ‘dark side’, with bolder choices of black or grey units – but unlike their shiny predecessors of the Nineties, these now come in an understated matt finish.

Rational’s Uno handle-less kitchen combines an oiled cracked oak veneer with sleek matt black units in a Monolack, a new lacquered laminate finish. Features include a pull-out coffee machine module and a Passe-Partout internal storage system (from £12,000).

10. Take to the floor

A feature wall, a stunning chandelier, and a ‘look at me’ choice of flooring in a punchy shade could be the perfect ingredients for a glamorous space.

11. Love a larder

While the concept of a larder harks back to an era before refrigeration, they’re now the ultimate chic feature in today’s kitchens, and provide plenty of space for all those jars and ingredients that can clutter up the fridge or worktops.

Want to know the rest of the kit on the dream kitchen list? A range cooker, instant hot water taps, remote-control extraction units, and integrated recycling units.

12. Worktop wizardry

The worktop is the workhorse of any kitchen, and so it needs to be tough, practical and good-looking. View this feature as a way of demonstrating your taste and bringing individuality to the kitchen design.

As it will have a big visual impact, don’t leave your worktop choice ’til last – instead start with the surfaces and match other key pieces, like the cabinets, to them.

Decor tip: Veined marble is in vogue, as it’s more interesting than a plain top but won’t dominate. If you’re after a contrasting look, choose white marble and pick up on the veining colour for the paint shade on the cabinetry.

13. Rose-tinted touches

Pink is having a moment in kitchens. This soft shade can bring warmth to a cool space and works particularly well in an open-plan area, where you don’t want a harsh contrast between the living and cooking area.

5 Flowers to Plant Now that will Bloom in Winter

These beautiful florals will brighten up the colder months, says Katie Wright.

With the introduction of new lockdown rules looking likely for many of us, and restrictions already in place for some, there are plenty of reasons to feel pessimistic about the months ahead – especially as we inch ever closer to the clocks going back and dreary, dark days become more frequent.

One way to cheer up the chillier months? Buying plants and sowing seeds now that will flower during winter. Whether you’re lucky enough to have a garden, or you’re restricted to pot plants on a windowsill, there are plenty of easy-to-grow options that will deliver an abundance of colour later down the line.

Here are five winter-flowering plants to sow now…

1. Winter flowering pansies

Flowering from autumn until mid-spring, winter flowering pansies are bright and hardy, making them ideal for beginners, and can be grown in flower beds or pots. Fill a window box with yellow, purple or pink pansies to enjoy a daily splash of colour throughout winter.

2. Cyclamen

With delicate flowers in shades of pink, red and white alongside dark green leaves, cyclamen are very pretty perennials and they’ll start to flower from early winter. In the garden, they’re ideal for positioning at the base of small trees and shrubs, but they can also be grown in pots – and make for a great display either side of your front door.

3. Crocuses

Perfect for planting in pots, crocus bulbs can be sown up until the end of November, and will bloom from February onwards, their purple, yellow or white petals poking up through the soil. Many consider them the first sign that spring is beginning to wake up the earth. Alternatively, plant them throughout your lawn to create a beautiful meadow towards the end of winter.

4. Winter clematis

There’s a clematis for every season: cirrhosa is a winter-flowering variety with cream and maroon speckled petals. The climbing plant is ideal for covering a shed wall or trellis, and will bloom from November to February.

5. Christmas rose

Dreaming of a white Christmas? We can’t promise a flurry of snowflakes, but with the Christmas rose or helleborus niger you can have snowy white flowers during the festive season – if you’re lucky. This hellebore variety usually flowers from January onwards, but can bloom as early as December.

Rory the Vet: What your Family Should Consider Before Getting a Pet

TV vet Rory Cowlam advises on how to tell if your family is ready for a pet and how to choose the right kind. By Lisa Salmon.

Vet Rory Cowlam has had an affinity with animals “from day one” and can’t imagine life without them at work or at home.

Now affectionately known as Rory the Vet and a well-known face on TV -playing a leading role in the CBBC show The Pets Factor as well as appearing on Blue Peter, BBC Breakfast and Lorraine – Cowlam wanted to be a vet from the age of four when his family got a great dane puppy, Lulu, who he says was “my shadow and best friend”.

The family had various other cats and dogs (all of them adored, but not quite as much as his “kindred spirit” Lulu), plus chickens and ducks, as he grew up in the Cotswolds countryside. And the Royal Veterinary College graduate now has his own lurcher puppy, Nala, who Cowlam says was abandoned by travellers and found by some children, who contacted the RSPCA, for whom Cowlam is an ambassador. And after she was wormed and given plenty of food, the lucky pup was adopted this month by Cowlam.

She’s only just moved in with him, so she doesn’t feature in his new book, The Secret Life of a Vet, but it contains many other both heart-wrenching and heartwarming tales of veterinary escapades, which vividly illustrate the depth of feeling vets have for many of the animals they treat. Cowlam, 28, admits he’s been known to shed a few tears when he’s had to put much-loved pets to sleep.

Not surprisingly, the affable vet, who shares a house with his younger sister and Nala in London, is a strong advocate of pet ownership – but only if the circumstances are right.

“In my opinion, having a pet makes a family complete,” he says. “Whether it’s a fish, guinea pigs, a dog or a terrapin, they all bring such joy. If you’re looking to add a pet to your family, make sure to do your research and choose the right pet for your family and circumstances. Do this, and you can’t go wrong.”

Here, Cowlam, who qualified five years ago and works at a veterinary practice, discusses what families need to consider if they’re thinking of getting a pet.

How can you tell if your family’s ready for a pet?

“It’s always a really hard decision working out if your family is ready for a pet – it’s not one to take lightly and it’s crucial to realise that if you go ahead, you have to put the pet first.

“A really important thing to consider is the cost associated with having a pet – you must be able to afford it and everything looking after it entails. This includes insurance, food, vet bills and other costs.

“The other thing to consider is do you have the time that a pet deserves and needs? They take up a huge amount of time and you have to consider whether you’re willing to sacrifice certain things to be home for them. If you can provide this though, it’s the most wonderful thing in the world.”

What do families need to consider before getting a pet?

“There are many things to consider, as I’ve already mentioned, but you also must consider whether the pet is right for your current circumstances. Things to take into consideration are where you live, whether you have young children, and whether you have the time and means to look after it. I really do urge anyone considering getting a pet to think long and hard about these things before going ahead.”

What are the best pets to choose to fit your family circumstances?

“This is such a difficult question, as it depends on all of the above. For example, a dog would require lots of time and training, whereas a goldfish requires very little! Make sure to thoroughly research your chosen pet before you adopt it though, to ensure you get the very best pet for your lifestyle. There’s lots of help and advice out there too.”

Which pets should particular families avoid, and why?

“There are few to avoid. I highly recommend rescuing; however, these are not always appropriate for families with young children. Again, please do your research before rushing into anything.”

What are the benefits of having a pet in the family?

“I’m a strong believer that children learn so much from pets that they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to – for example, social skills and empathy. There are numerous studies that show pets not only help children but also benefit their mental health.

“I also believe they teach children responsibility as they realise they need to be looked after (given food, water, training, letting them out to the toilet, walking them etc for dogs).”

The Secret Life of a Vet by Rory Cowlam ls published by Coronet, priced £9.99. Available now.

11 Ways to Spook up your Space for Halloween

Set the scene for Halloween with pimped up pumpkins and haunting homeware, says Sam Wylie-Harris.

With ‘Halloween at home’ falling on a Saturday, and our own personal sanctuaries setting the stage for the spookiest night of the year – will a full moon in the offing – the idea of creating a little house of horrors has never been so bewitching.

Want to set the scene for Halloween? Here’s how to spin a web of intrigue and get to grips with ghoulish goodies…

1. Pack of Five Halloween Confetti Balloons, £6.95, Graham & Green

Stringing beastly balloons together with black ribbon is a wicked way to dress up the entrance hall for trick-or-treaters, especially when they’re filled with confetti disguised as creepy-crawlies, bats and bugs.

2. Wallsource 70614579 Wallpaper Mural, from £29 per square metre,

Move over Zoom backgrounds… if you really want to capture the chilling mood of Halloween virtual parties, a wallpaper mural is where it’s at. Made-to-measure and printed on demand to your dimensions, this wonder wall of jack-o’-lanterns in a spine-chilling graveyard is a real scream!

3. Sainsbury’s Home Halloween Collection: Skull Paper Plates, £1 for Pack of 8; Skeleton Arm Shot Holder, £5; Skull Beer Stein, £2; Black Ombre Plastic Wine Glass, £2; Skeleton Platter, £2 (other items from a selection or part of room set), larger Sainsbury’s stores

Devilishly good dining ideas, such as dressing the table with a little skulduggery, keeps adults entertained, as well as the kids. Themed treats, nibbles, skull-shaped snacks and hot dogs topped with gory ketchup will look so much better on a spooky black plate (not to mention wicked wines and shots served in black stemware).

4. Staub 24cm Pumpkin Cast Iron Cocotte Cinnamon, £259 (other items from a selection or part of room set), Zwilling

Not just a one-night wonder, pumpkins are a firm favourite on autumnal menus, all season long. For rustic-style table settings and those devilishly delicious pumpkin soups, curries and stews, nothing beats an eye-catching pumpkin cocotte (with black matte enamelled interior) taking centre stage. Suitable for hobs as well as the oven, it’s also ideal for rustling up a sauce for your pumpkin gnocchi.

5. Emma Bridgewater Halloween Themed Cobwebs and Midnight Spiders 1/2 Pint Mugs, £19.95 each, Emma Bridgewater

When you want to cup your hands around a warming hot chocolate or mulled pear and cranberry punch, only a generously sized mug – that can cope with a topping of frothy cream and cinnamon – will do. These creepy cups are ideal for Halloween hunkering on the sofa.

6. Gold Mercury LED Glass Pumpkin, £29.99 (other items from a selection or part of room set), Lights4Fun

When it comes to glamourous, ghostly ‘shelfies’ and tablescaping, a pumpkin with pizzazz makes a super stylish addition. This one’s made from extra fine glass and will proffer a shimmery, moonlit glow.

7. TruGlow Pumpkin LED Autumn Candle Trio, £19.99, Lights4Fun

Alternatively, this flickering trio made from real wax can be styled with berries, greenery and moss, or placed in the window to project shadows and illuminate your spine-chilling decos.

8. Nordic Ware Haunted Skull Cake Pan, £40.80, and Skull Cakelet Pan, £40 (other items part of room set), Harts of Stur

Don’t trust your cake-carving skills to whip up a beastly bake? Then these skull-shaped cake pans will do the job. Conjure up a red velvet skull and after it’s cooled, serve the cream cheese icing on the side, with gooey, chocolate eyeballs.

9. George Home Multi Halloween Dogs Reversible Duvet Set, from £10,

Come witching hour, when things start to go bump in the night, your Halloween costume party doesn’t have to end. Treat the bed to some spooky dressing up too.

10. Johnson & White London 2 Wick Candle, from £53, Johnson & White Aromas

For some grown-up black magic, you can up your squash game by spray-painting baby pumpkins black then hand lettering them in gold. Styled with a decadent candle, scented with bergamot, juniper, heady jasmine and hint of earthy patchouli, chances are you’ll be enchanted.

11. The Halloween Window Stencil Pack (42cm x 42cm), £9.99 (was £20), Snow Windows

It may be a little unnerving for onlookers, but when darkness falls, this wicked window display will certainly set the scene. To create this haunting, misty scene, position the stencil on the window, spray over with a can of Snow Spray (£3), peel off and wait for the squeals.

Are these the Quirkiest Hotels in the UK and Ireland?

The latest edition of the Good Hotel Guide reveals the weirdest and wackiest places to rest your head. Sarah Marshall reports.

If 2020 has been the year of discovering great hotels on our doorstep, then 2021 will no doubt provide an opportunity to delve even deeper into the welcoming world of domestic hospitality.

Every year, The Good Hotel Guide cherry picks the best properties on offer in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and never before has its expert recommendations been in more demand.

We asked the editors to select their top quirky overnight stays – from lighthouses and windmills to former railway carriages, because right now, we could all do with a bit of escapism. Here’s a selection of the most imaginative sleeps beyond your wildest dreams.

The Old Railway Station

Where: Petworth, Sussex

A first-class stay at this converted station is just the ticket, especially if you book one of the rooms in the four romantic Pullman carriages, with their colonial-style furniture, mahogany fittings and plantation shutters. Breakfast, drinks and afternoon tea can be delivered to your carriage door. Two more rooms can be found in the original Station House, of which the largest, with an impressive vaulted ceiling, is up a spiral stairway. Doubles from £150, B&B (

Talland Bay Hotel

Where: Porthallow, Cornwall

Whether you’re sitting on a zebra-print sofa looking at the 3D Mickey Mouse on the wall, or are perched on a wooden bench with giant budgies in the garden, you’ll find this hotel with a spectacular setting by the coastal path ‘curiouser and curiouser’. It is a fun place, although owners Teresa and Kevin O’Sullivan are very serious about hospitality. The service is slick, there is locally-sourced food in the restaurant, and some of the light, airy rooms have sea views. You can take your four-legged friends, too. Doubles from £160, B&B (

Twr Y Felin Hotel

Where: St Davids, Pembrokeshire, Wales

It’s not every day you find a contemporary art museum in a Georgian windmill. On the edge of the UK’s smallest city, Twr Y Felin houses more than 150 original works, some of which you will find adorning the walls of the contemporary restaurant and vaulted lounge. A dozen artists were specifically commissioned to create works inspired by the surrounding area. They include Marcus Oleniuk, who photographed St Davids peninsula; and there are magnificent views of the real thing from the observatory that’s part of the Tower Suite. Doubles from £220, B&B (

St Cuthbert’s House

Where: Seahouses, Northumberland

You can seek sanctuary in Jeff and Jill Sutheran’s imaginatively converted 19th-century chapel, with its arched windows, wood flooring and double-height living room, complete with cast iron pillars. Even the original carved pulpit and the harmonium are still present. Some of the six country-style bedrooms are quite snug, but they do come with bathrobes, coffee machines and digital radios. Breakfasts are taken seriously here, with home-made kipper paté, kedgeree made with oak-smoked haddock from the Seahouses smokehouse and a full Northumbrian on the menu. It’s just a short stroll to Bamburgh Castle. Doubles from £130, B&B (

No.15 Great Pulteney

Where: Bath, Somerset

The Georgian facade of this Grade I listed building may be traditional, but there’s a world of eccentricity within: the spa is in a former coal cellar, room keys are kept in a doll’s house, and The Dispensary restaurant holds the contents of an antique chemist’s shop. There is artwork everywhere you look. The elegant rooms range from cosy doubles with murals on the wall to junior suites in the neo-Gothic coach house, with large pieces of statement art, coffered ceilings and fireplaces. Doubles from £184, B&B (

The Dial House

Where: Reepham, Norfolk

Most rooms are geographically themed at this Georgian house on the market square. You can pick from Africa, with vaulted beams, bright patterns and a free-standing bath, Parisian Garret with its antiques, or China, a celebration of Willow Pattern. A revolving bookcase reveals a secret dining room, where the menu features local produce cooked over sustainably-sourced charcoal. There’s even a retail wing, Vegas Vintage, which sells everything from antiques to aged biker jackets and Eighties puff ballgowns. Doubles from £125, B&B (

Belle Tout Lighthouse

Where: Eastbourne, Sussex

You won’t know which way to look from the lantern room of this unique B&B on the South Coast: there are superb sea views in one direction and all the beauty of the South Downs in the other. It’s the perfect place from which to watch sunrises over Beachy Head Lighthouse or sunsets over Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters. If it’s mild, there’s a walkway outside the lantern room, or the lounge below is home to a crackling fire. Only one of the six rooms is in the tower, with the bed reached by a ladder. Doubles from £160, B&B (

Tuddenham Mill

Where: Tuddenham, Suffolk

The waterwheel is in the bar and the gearing apparatus of this 18th-century mill is on show in the beamed dining room, where creative field-to-fork meals are served. In among the history, the mill’s bedrooms are stylish and contemporary. Hobbit-style huts in the meadow have hot tubs on the terrace, and enormous rooms in the beamed eaves come with a double-end stone bath in sight of the enormous bed. Other rooms have access to the millstream, where swans glide beside the enormous chimney. Doubles from £150, B&B (

The Ceilidh Place

Where: Ullapool, Scotland

The Urquhart family’s hotel has only 13 rooms in a series of cottages, but it is also home to a bookshop, coffee shop and events space. There’s a more traditional bar, and a restaurant which serves creative bistro-style food fished or farmed locally, including venison burgers and langoustines. Bedrooms are full of character, with a Roberts radio and books instead of a television. There’s even a bunkhouse across the car park for those travelling on a budget. Doubles from £300 for two nights, with dinner and breakfast (

The Quay House

Where: Clifden, County Galway, Ireland

Don’t be surprised to find a Buddha statue rubbing shoulders with a Cupid in the Foyles’ B&B, packed with curios. There are clocks – broken and working – a collection of bovine horns and family photos a-plenty in the former Georgian harbourmaster’s house and three of its neighbours, overlooking Owenglin estuary. Most of the elegant bedrooms boast harbour views, as well as antiques, original artwork, and perhaps a four-poster or half-tester bed. Doubles from €175/£161, B&B in October; the B&B closes for the season in November (

The Good Hotel Guide 2021: Great Britain and Ireland, is priced £16,

7 Tips for First-time Buyers Hoping to get on the Property Ladder Right Now

The economy is in a tough place – but there are still lots of things first-time buyers can do to boost their prospects. By Vicky Shaw.

While parts of the UK’s housing market have undergone a mini boom lately, there have also been signs that life is getting tougher for first-time buyers.

The choice of low deposit mortgages has shrunk in recent months, as concerns about ‘riskier’ lending have grown. According to NAEA (National Association of Estate Agents) Propertymark, first-time buyers made up 23% of home sales in August, a fall from 25% in July.

However, while the Covid-19 crisis has brought big financial challenges, it also appears to have made some aspiring first-time buyers more determined than ever.

Just over a third (35%) say the pandemic has had no impact on their plans to buy, according to research from Legal & General Mortgage Club.

With many people spending more time indoors than they normally would this year, more than half (54%) of first-time buyers say lockdown conditions have made it easier to save money. A small group of buyers (8%) have even brought forward their plans to buy.

To find out more about how first-time buyers can make the jump onto the property ladder in tough conditions, we asked Kevin Roberts, director at Legal & General Mortgage Club, to share some top tips…

1. Consider getting advice

Get an adviser on your side and get them to do the work for you. They’re going to know the market. Bear in mind that the mortgage market is busy at the moment and applications could take longer than usual. An adviser will work on your behalf to get your application through as quickly as possible.

2. Be prepared

If there is going to be a ‘flash sale’, which some lenders are doing now, you really want to work with your adviser and have everything ready – your payslips, your identification, everything that you need. Be really on the front foot and know what you can afford. Think about your spending habits – you need your credit score to be as good as possible.

3. Can you save a bigger deposit?

A bigger deposit could give you more choice. For example, if you can stretch from putting down a 10% deposit to a 15% deposit, there are more lenders at this level.

Legal & General Mortgage Club’s research has suggested that some people have been able to save more during lockdown, whether that’s from saving on rail fares or fewer coffees, people have been able to save some money.

4. Do you have a family member who can help?

Perhaps a parent or grandparent may be able to help you to top up your deposit. There are also ‘family assist’ mortgages out there, such as Barclays’ family springboard mortgage, where a helper transfers money into a linked savings account for a fixed period.

5. Could other schemes give you a helping hand?

The government schemes available, such as Help to Buy and shared ownership initiatives, may vary depending on what part of the UK you live in.

There are a broad range of lending opportunities around shared ownership. Some options may allow borrowers to ‘staircase’ out of shared ownership, where they purchase chunks of equity back over time.

There is also the Lifetime Isa, which is available across the UK and comes with a Government bonus. Someone must be aged 18 or under 40 to open a Lifetime Isa.

6. Have your priorities changed?

Lockdown has changed where some buyers intend to purchase and the types of property they are seeking. Think about how your needs may have changed over lockdown and if you do plan to buy a bigger property, don’t overstretch yourself.

7. Finally, remember all is not lost if you can’t buy right now

Borrowers need to get their housing plans moving if they want to take advantage of the temporary stamp duty holiday currently in place. Stamp duty applies in England and Northern Ireland, but similar holidays are also in place in Scotland and Wales. But if you’re not in a position to buy right now, you may still find good opportunities in the months ahead.

There have been some signs recently that rising demand may have potentially increased house prices in some areas. While no one can say for certain what will happen in the future, for some people, it may potentially be a good time to buy next year, when things may be a bit more settled and buyers may possibly find they are in a better position to negotiate.

So don’t give up hope, as by really thinking about your outgoings, trying to save and talking to family members, you could really boost your ability to get onto the property ladder.

Apples Galore in your Garden? Time to Make Chutney and Jam

Add Your Heading Text HereExperts offer advice on the best apples to grow for particular dishes, and how to preserve your bumper harvest. By Hannah Stephenson.

Fed up with the thought of endless crumbles and pies? So, what else can you do with your bumper crops of apples?

It’s easy to make chutneys and jams from huge gluts, say experts from Arundel Castle ( in west Sussex, which has this year had an amazing harvest.

Senior organic kitchen gardener Izzy McKinley and artisan jam and chutney maker Christine Hart, owner of Sussex Jams And Chutneys, are helping to make the most of the season’s best.

Why bother preserving apples at home?

For much of the year, the apples on supermarket shelves are months old, says McKinley. Often imported, they are stored in warehouses with modified atmospheres that prevent them from ripening.

Preserving them in chutneys and jams during autumn is a more traditional way of enjoying British apples throughout the year.

While Pink Lady and Jazz apples are imported, your own apples may be just as suitable. Varieties you might grow yourself, such as ‘Egremont Russet’ and ‘Bramley’, can be transformed into delicious dishes.

Choosing your apples

McKinley and Hart agree that the best all-rounder is the ‘Peasegood’s Nonsuch’, a large apple from Lincolnshire. It is a cooking apple but requires much less sugar than other cookers, says Hart.

She says: “Never be put off by cooking apples, they are excellent to work with. It’s quicker to peel and prepare a large apple, and these varieties have a wonderfully sharp flavour. You can add sugar as you like. Cooking apples still produce deliciously sweet jams.

“While chutneys and apple sauce are popular choices, I like to make apple jams and serve with scones, as an autumnal alternative to a classic cream tea.”

Other ways of preserving apples this autumn include…


Making chutney is like making jam, except it will have a longer cooking time and include vinegar, less sugar and more savoury ingredients, such as onions. Unleash your creativity and experiment with adding spices, fruits or even seasonal vegetables, such as squash. Curry lovers can try making their own apple and mango chutney, the experts suggest.

No-cook relish

Make your own apple relish without having to cook. Combine apples, vinegar, sugar and seasoning, then store in the fridge for two to three days, shaking each day. It’ll keep for up to one week. As with all preserves, it’s vital to sterilise the jars properly first.


Thinly sliced apples should be dipped in an acidic solution (such as lemon juice and water) to prevent browning, then dried in an oven at a low temperature or in a food dehydrator. Both methods take up to 12 hours. The apples can be stored in a Ziplock bag and, if optimally dried and stored, will last up to six months. Eat them as a sweet snack or crumbled on granola.


While freshly home-made apple juice will only keep for two to three days in the fridge, it will last for a few months stored in plastic bags in the freezer, so it’s worth making plenty of your own, says McKinley.

Frozen apple juice has a range of culinary uses – use it as cooking liquid for gammon or serve over the festive season in spiced cocktails and mocktails.

Her top pick for juicing is the lesser-known variety ‘Ingrid Marie’. “It has a lightly aromatic juice and is a cross between ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’ and ‘Elstar’,” she says.

Apple juice aficionados should also keep a lookout for the ‘Jupiter’, another ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’ cross, which bursts with sweet juice, she suggests.

“For the ultimate home-made apple juice, our head gardener’s secret is to add one or two pears. The sweetness and texture that a ripe pear brings to an apple juice is unparalleled,” she says.

Monty Don’s Wildlife Quest: ‘If Everybody does Something Small, you end up with Big Action’

The Gardeners’ World presenter talks about appreciating wildlife during lockdown and how gardeners can do their bit for the planet.

Gardening guru Monty Don had plenty of time during lockdown to admire the wildlife in his garden at Longmeadow, in Herefordshire, while filming much of the latest Gardeners’ World series virtually.

“I’ve hardly left my garden since early March,” he reflects. “Lockdown hugely affected the filming of Gardeners’ World, but it hasn’t stopped it. We haven’t had a film crew here since the end of February.

“For about a month we filmed it ourselves and since then, the garden has been laid out with miles of cable and equipped with robot cameras. I mic myself up, so everything you see of me is just me alone in the garden speaking to robots.”

He’s also been able to finish two books – My Garden World, about his connection with wildlife, and American Gardens, written with Derry Moore, tied into his recent TV series.

My Garden World features many of his detailed observations about wildlife. “I’ve always been fascinated by birds, wild flowers and wild animals, but particularly birds,” he explains. “Throughout my adult life in the garden, the fellow travellers – the frogs, the beetles, the ladybirds, even the aphids and the worms, as well as the more spectacular birds like sparrowhawks – have been a rich part of my gardening experience.

“That also proved to be very true in lockdown. One of the things we’ve noticed on Gardeners’ World is that more and more people are showing an interest in the wildlife in their garden, not necessarily rare wildlife.

“It’s just as fascinating seeing a robin as it is seeing a peregrine falcon, in its own way,” he muses.

His favourites, he admits, are birds of prey. “I’ve always been completely fascinated by them. In my lifetime, almost all birds of prey have increased hugely, which is one of the success stories. There was a disastrous decline in the Fifties and Sixties, but they’ve recovered very well, with the exception of the kestrel.

“But I’m now seeing birds of prey that I dreamed of seeing when I was in my 20s. Three days ago a peregrine falcon circled around my garden. That was unimaginable 40 years ago.

“Above the farm (he also has a small farm 30 miles from Longmeadow in the Black Mountains of Wales) we watch hen harriers, and there are only [thought to be] 600 [nesting] pairs in [the UK], so I feel privileged, blessed.”

Of course, most of us may not be so lucky to see these majestic species, but we can take pleasure in the more common wildlife, and Don is now urging gardeners to do their bit to attract all creatures great and small to their gardens.

“Instead of trying to attract one type of animal, the secret is to have a rich and varied garden with lots of cover, plenty of shrubs, hedges and trees, seeds and pollen, so you have insects, birds that eat insects, and birds that eat birds – and you have a chain of life.

“One of the points of the book is that even the most humble back garden can do that,” he insists.

Don remains optimistic about the future of wildlife in our gardens, having seen the organic movement grow in the last 50 years, and a trend towards more naturalistic planting.

“We have an environmental crisis that is underway – it’s too late to stop it – but the garden is a way that ordinary people can connect with that crisis and do something about it.

“It’s fine for politicians and campaigners to have big talk about saving the planet – let’s plant trees, let’s all go vegan – but it’s pie in the sky. Most people can’t relate to that. But you can relate to having a little bit of long grass in your garden, or a little pond.

“If everybody does something small, you end up with big action.”

Here are Don’s top tips on how to attract more wildlife to your garden…

Provide water

“It can literally be a little half barrel,” he says, “but having some kind of pond will attract a range of wildlife, from frogs and dragonflies, but also insects which will in turn attract birds and bats. It will create a chain that you will help.”

Plant long grass

“Long grass provides fantastic cover. Not only can you grow wild flowers in it, which is great for pollinating insects, but also it’s good cover for insects and small mammals like voles and shrews, frogs and all kinds of smaller life.”

Be less tidy

“Have a few heaps of leaves around, or gather up some sticks and put them in a corner, which will provide cover. If your garden is big enough to grow hedges or shrubs or trees, so much the better.”

He continues: “A very simple little pond, a patch of long grass that you leave uncut, just cutting it once a year, and a little untidiness, is quite easy.”

Consider pollinators when planting a balcony garden

“Grow plants for pollinators in pots; types which bees and other insects will come to. Even with a window box you can be part of that.”

My Garden World by Monty Don is published by Two Roads, priced £20. American Gardens by Monty Don and Derry Moore is published by Prestel, priced £35. Both available now.

3 Easy Upcycling Ideas Everyone can do at Home

Expert upcycler Max McMurdo tells Sam Wylie-Harris why savvy crafters will love beautifying these binned items.

The upcycling message is practical, powerful and pretty clever.

“I really believe that waste can be beautifully upcycled,” says Max McMurdo, eco-designer and TV presenter. “Just because an item can no longer fulfil its original purpose, doesn’t mean it can’t work really well as something else.

“I started upcycling 18 years ago and people didn’t understand what I was doing, they thought I was a mad hippy!” Chatty and fun, McMurdo lives in a 40-foot upcycled shipping container, which he converted into a floating home – and admits it’s the most ambitious thing he’s ever upcycled.

“It’s fantastic and I love it. I had the bright idea that if I’m telling people what to do, I must do it on the biggest scale of all and upcycle a home. My lampshades are old jelly moulds and my table’s a washing machine drum.”

If you take a look on Pinterest, it seems a lot of people stick to one material (which they’re comfortable with) when upcycling. But for McMurdo, successful product design and upcycling is all about mixing materials, like wood and glass or metal and leather. “So with something like a wash drum table, I put a light bulb inside that streams out of the holes, with a piece of glass on top.”

Working with reclaimed materials takes creativity and a little bit of effort. But as McMurdo points out, just because you’re upcyling, doesn’t mean it should be any less beautiful in terms of design and aesthetic. “You’ll be amazed how many things you can reuse in a really cool way!”

McMurdo has partnered with Heinz for their ‘Handmade with Heinz’ campaign, which aims to inspire people to upcycle household items and waste – like used tins, for example.

Wondering where to start? Here’s how to get a foot on the crafting ladder…

1. Upcycle old pallets into cool garden furniture

You’ll need: Some used wood pallets, castor wheels (available in sets of four), selection of ready-made cushions.

Steps: Pick up some free wood pallets from a local shop, farm or industrial estate – don’t be afraid to ask! Screw castor wheels to each corner of the bottoms of the pallets to make them manoeuvrable (they come with holes and are easy to affix). Double stack the pallets for the right height. Sand the pallets down lightly to avoid splinters, then wax to seal and make them weather resistant. Add some cushions.

Top Tip: Amazon sells Cuprnol Garden Furniture Stain Exterior Wood Care, priced £15, to seal your pallets from bad weather and keep them looking nicer for longer.

2. Upcycle a wooden ladder into a cool shelf

You’ll need: An old wooden ladder, some knick-knacks and anything you want to hang on it.

Steps: Find an old wood ladder – the more paint spattered the better. If you don’t have one, ask neighbours and friends. Prop it securely against a wall and use as a quirky shelf. You can hang it with anything you like, including clip-on lights or fairy lights. This also works as a towel rack in bathrooms.

Top tip: This one works especially well for rental properties, as you don’t need to attach anything to walls.

3. Upcycle some old books into a knife block

You’ll need: 4-5 old books (buy these from a charity shop if you don’t have any at home), strong string.

Steps: Prop your old books upright, next to each other. Wind an old piece of strong string around the books a couple of times and tie it tightly. Pop your knives in it and place on your kitchen top.

Top tip: You can also create some great artwork with old books, by folding the pages into a certain pattern, or into words like ‘love’ and ‘home’.

For more information on the #handmadewithheinz campaign, check out Heinz UK and Max McMurdo on Instagram.

Want to Tap into the Staycation Market? 5 Ways to Boost your Holiday Let Investment

Letting out a holiday home can be a great income source – but there are some key things to consider. By Vicky Shaw.

UK staycation holidays have been especially popular this year, with the pandemic making overseas travel so tricky.

This may have prompted those who already have a second home, or who are considering investing in one, to think about using them for holiday lets.

While the future impact of coronavirus on all businesses, including holiday rental properties, is uncertain, you may be considering investing in a holiday let as a long-term option right now, perhaps to supplement a retirement income in the years to come.

According to figures from Sykes Holiday Cottages (, owners earned £21,000 on average last year through their holiday lets.

But if you are thinking about a buy-to-let investment to tap into the staycation trend, there are certain things to consider before taking the plunge. Here, Bev Dumbleton, Sykes Holiday Cottages chief operating officer, shares five key tips…

1. Calculate your budget

First things first, take time to evaluate your finances to determine how much money you have to kick-start your investment in a holiday let. If you don’t already have a second home, you’ll have to weigh up the costs of buying one and paying the mortgage, while also factoring in budget for things like bills, maintenance and repairs.

To keep track of your budget for the project, look online for free templates and calculator tools or create your own document.

2. Location, location, location

Whether it’s the rugged moorland of the Peak District, seaside towns in South Wales, or stunning views in the Scottish Highlands, each region of the UK has its own unique character and something to offer holidaymakers.

According to Sykes’ data, the Peak District takes the top spot as the highest-earning region for holiday lettings in the UK, with a two-bed cottage generating £14,000 a year, on average, increasing to £27,000 for a four-bed.

Booking data also shows North Wales has been popular with holidaymakers this summer. The average income there is £12,000 for a two-bed and £22,000 for a four-bed. Elsewhere in the UK, investors can potentially expect to make on average £13,000 for a two-bed and £19,000 for a four-bed in the Highlands and islands of Scotland.

When choosing where to set up, also consider proximity to local amenities and the beach, as well as how parking is locally and whether a place has good transport links, as these will all affect revenue.

3. It’s in the detail

Furnishing your holiday let to a high standard will maximise the booking value and, therefore, potential earnings. As your property will be used by a lot of different guests, investing in good quality, durable furniture will also save you money in the long run. Be sure to choose your furnishings wisely – for example, leather sofas and hard floors may be far easier to keep clean than the fabric equivalents.

Remember that guests are looking for a ‘home away from home’ with added luxury, so you need to think carefully about who your target visitors are likely to be and kit your property out accordingly. For example, a two-person property in a rural location may be a base for a romantic couples’ break, so consider roll-top baths and hot tubs. A larger property on the Cornish coast is ideal for families, so invest in your outside space and a good selection of board games.

By making sure your guests have the best possible experience, you’ll also secure repeat customers, recommendations and five-star reviews, which all help to improve profitability.

4. Consider year-round appeal

This will ensure a steady flow of bookings. Properties with hot tubs, on average, earn more than 50% more than those that don’t. Other stand-out features, such as wood burning stoves and open fires, tend to be received very well by guests and encourage bookings all year round.

Making your holiday let pet-friendly will also help to drive bookings outside of the peak holiday season. Owners who accept short breaks in winter can also earn more, with people more likely to book long weekends away during this time.

5. Marketing is key

By contacting an agency as soon as you’re considering entering the market, you can get expert advice from the outset to avoid any potential pitfalls. Getting your pricing right is crucial, so research the competition and speak to experts to understand how to flex your pricing based on seasonal demand.

Photos are also key to showcasing your property and are incredibly important in driving bookings. Take photos year-round, if you’re planning to rent the property out throughout the year. Remember – the more images the better, but quality matters most. Also consider including images of local amenities to highlight what there is to do nearby.

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