Allotment Challenge: 3 Easy Veg for Beginners and 3 Trickier Crops for Seasoned Growers

allotment veg challenge

Choosing the right veg for your experience level can make a world of difference. Hannah Stephenson shares her top picks.

National Allotments Week is approaching (August 12-18), with gardeners being encouraged to share their harvests and exchange tips.

And if you’re relatively new to the grow-your-own scene, it’s always handy to hear about what’s easy and what’s not – and which crops to tackle once you’ve got a bit more experience under your belt.

Here are three easy veg for beginners, and three more challenging crops for the seasoned allotment holder…

allotment veg challenge

EASY:

1. Onions

The great thing about onions is you can be harvesting them from February to September, if you plant different types.

For the quickest results, grow onions from sets (small bulbs), planting summer (maincrop) types in March and April, in well-cultivated, weed-free ground, pushing the sets gently into the soil so the tips are level with the surface. Spacing depends on the size of the set, so for small bulbs, plant them 2.5cm apart in rows 15cm apart.

Just keep plants watered in dry spells and you could have a succession of onions for much of the year. Spring onions can be harvested as soon as they are big enough to use, while maincrops will be ready in August and early September, when the leaves turn yellow.

Top tip: Keep on top of weeding because onions can’t compete. You’ll need to hoe or hand-weed regularly.

allotment veg challenge

2. Swiss chard

This veg not only tastes good but also makes a great ornamental addition, as there are several types with coloured stalks which add vibrancy to any veg patch or potager.

Related to leaf beet, you can sow it from April to mid-July in rows outside, then thin the seedlings out to 15cm apart, allowing 30cm between rows. The only thing you need to do is keep it well watered in dry spells and free from weeds. It should be ready for picking from July to October.

Top tip: Swiss chard doesn’t travel well as the leaves look sorry a day after picking, so use it fresh.

allotment veg challenge

3. Courgettes

These wonderful summer veg, great grilled on the barbecue or sliced thinly in salads, are easy to grow, provided you give them enough space (one plant will fill a large container). Their yellow flowers are also edible and can add colour and mild flavour to salads.

They need to be started off indoors in spring, sowing singly in pots on a windowsill in April, and then hardening off outside before you plant them after the last frost has passed, at the beginning of June.

Prepare the soil by filling a hole with compost and topping it off with soil to create a low mound, so excess rainwater runs away from the base of the plant, helping prevent stem rot. Space them 60cm in each direction and lay mulch over the soil to retain moisture and smother weeds.

Keep them well watered during the warmer months and feed them with tomato feed every week once fruits have formed. You should be picking them from July to October and have plenty to share with your allotment pals with just a few plants.

Top tip: Choose a variety bred specifically for courgette growing, rather than a marrow type where you can pick the fruits when they are small, because your yield will be better. Good varieties include ‘Soleil’, ‘Clarion’ and ‘Parthenon’.

allotment veg challenge

A BIT TRICKIER…

1. Florence fennel

This aniseed-flavoured veg with a swollen white bulb-like base is delicious used raw in salads or roasted in the oven.

It’s challenging because it prefers a Mediterranean climate, so you need to mimic that as much as possible growing it in a warm spot in light, well-drained soil, working in plenty of organic matter and watering it during dry spells.

Its main problem is bolting – when it produces flowers and runs to seed – which will make the bulbous base inedible. This can be caused by lack of organic matter in the planting area, dry soil and sudden swings in temperature.

Start the seeds off indoors in May, sowing three seeds each in small pots. Germination can be erratic, but remove the weakest two, leaving one seedling per pot.

Harden the plants off carefully before planting outside at the end of June, or when there’s a prolonged period of warm weather. Water them carefully – you don’t need much to start with, but don’t let them dry out.

If you want to sow outside, leave sowing as late as you can, probably late June or early July, as Florence fennel will bolt if sown too early or in a cold summer. The seeds should be sown directly into a well-prepared seedbed. It grows quickly and should be ready in late August and September.

Top tip: Cover young plants with fleece at night if it’s chilly, even in the summer.

allotment veg challenge

2. Cauliflower

Now a designer veg, with purple and lime-green varieties as well as the traditional types, have a go with them on the allotment if you fancy something a little more challenging. The main problems are bolting and poor soil.

You can get summer, autumn and winter varieties which you’ll need to sow at different times of the year – the only one which can be started off outdoors is the winter variety, which can be sown in April and May.

The biggest job is really good soil preparation. They like clay soil which isn’t waterlogged. If you have light soil, dig in plenty of organic matter. If you have acid soil, add lime over the winter to give it a pH of 7 and a good boost of balanced fertiliser, working it into the soil before planting.

Water young plants in well but once they’re established, only water if the soil becomes very dry. Too much water will encourage bigger leaves, rather than curds.

To stop them bolting, feed and water seedlings well and transplant them no later than six weeks old. When the curd looks full-size, cut it off just below the base of the head.

Top tip: When small curds appear in the centres of the plants, bend a few outer leaves over for protection from bad weather, snapping them so that they stay in place.

allotment veg challenge

3. Celery

Delicious in salads, as crudites or cooked in stews, celery does, however, need attention to detail when growing. Sowing needs to be done indoors in relatively high temperatures (60-70°F/16-21°C). For the best chance of success, choose a self-blanching type.

Celery needs rich, fertile soil, which has had plenty of well-rotted organic matter worked into it beforehand. Plant the seedlings out in early June, after the last chance of frost has passed, spacing the plants 23cm apart in all directions. They need close spacing as the plants need to shade each other’s stems.

Water in well and keep them watered regularly. If you let the plants get remotely dry or water irregularly, you’ll lose the crop. Give them a liquid feed regularly too using a high-nitrogen feed, and keep them well weeded.

Top tip: Be vigilant against slugs, which can settle in and feed on the central stems, making the celery unusable.

National Allotments Week runs from August 12-18. Visit nsalg.org.uk.

3 Themes for Al Fresco Feasting: Love Island, Festival and Country Cool

al fresco dining

Little beats a lingering outdoor meal in summer. Gabrielle Fagan reveals three ways for setting the scene in style. There's something about eating outdoors. A generous helping of fresh air and (hopefully) sunshine can magically make even the simplest meal taste delicious.

al fresco dining

That’s all to the good, because summer’s no time to be slaving over a hot stove indoors – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a little time and trouble over the table.

By giving a setting a real sense of occasion, maybe opting for a theme, you’ll not only make it memorable but you could ramp up the fun – a few drinks could turn into a party and a supper into a celebration.

“Having lunch and supper parties outside is one of the real joys of summer,” enthuses interior designer, Joanna Wood. “I really like using unusual nature-inspired dishes in the shapes of leaves, and I like to work to a theme and pick a different one each year.”

This year she’s creating her own ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ al fresco setting, to give a patio area a theatrical touch. “A theme allows you to be creative and you can incorporate flowers, candles and maybe floating flower heads with tea lights for evening parties,” she says. “It’s all about a bit of imagination and planning that will result in something you can enjoy for the whole season.”

So turn the tables on dull dining and instead experiment with one of these three themes: Love Island style, a fun festival vibe, or a little slice of calm with country cool…

al fresco dining

Dine like a Love Islander

If you envy those fit reality TV show residents in their sun-drenched Mallorcan villa, create your own sizzling Mediterranean hotspot. It could be perfect for leisurely meals and chilling (romancing optional!).

Group potted palms, ferns and other tall foliage around simple seating. Low benches or boxes made comfy with foam rectangles wrapped in bright fabric will do nicely. Finally, inject another zip of sunshine colour with outdoor rugs and cushions. Then sit back and enjoy the banter!

Mix a decor cocktail and pick up on Love Island style with slogans and beach style accessories – pool blue and flamingo pink rules!

al fresco dining

Go full-on festival

Festival season’s arrived. No tickets – no problem! Simply give a table setting a boho, laid-back vibe, turn on the sound system, and have your own personal ‘feastival’ – without the mud, wellies or sagging tents.

This look i all about personality – pops of colour, mismatched china, and lots of freshly cut flowers and foliage. Don’t take it too seriously – there’s no room for formality here – just give it a bit of hippy-dippy character that makes it kick-off-your-shoes relaxing.

Feel free to pile on the paper lanterns and garlands – use solar lights for when the sun’s gone down – and add jewel-coloured glassware for a dash of glamour.

John Lewis is a brilliant destination for homeware that will ramp up al fresco style, including a brilliant range of tableware and furniture. Their Croft Collection Garden Dining Table Bench, £220, is ideal, while a Camden Garden Bistro Table and Chairs Set is currently reduced to £63 from £79. A Sol Pouffe – Multi, £120, makes a great finishing touch.

al fresco dining

Conjure country cool

The beauty of a rustic scene is its simplicity. All that’s needed are a wooden table and chairs, a linen runner and napkins, and plenty of lanterns and candles. Don’t forget to cater for chilly nights by putting a throw or a blanket on each chair.

“I live on a farm in the glorious West Country, so I really enjoy the chance to make the most of time outdoors with friends and family. And come the summer months, there is nothing I love more than a picnic or eating al fresco,” says Liz Earle, founder of Liz Earle Wellbeing magazine (lizearlewellbeing.com).

“Picnics and meals outdoors are a great way of enjoying the great outdoors and making the most of nature’s beauty, but they don’t just have to be daytime affairs. There’s nothing nicer than lingering over a meal on a sultry evening and pretty lighting will transform a setting.”

Battery operated tea lights, which will twinkle into the night, are a pretty and safe way to add enchantment, Earle says.

“Perch them atop jam jars or logs to give them a bit more height, or use them in hanging glass lanterns above a table to turn it into a focal point,” she suggests.

The closer you get to echoing your indoor taste outside in your garden ‘room’, the more successful the result will be. Opt for accessories that would look just as good in a living room as on a terrace.

al fresco dining

13 Fab Floral Finds to Spruce up your Space for Summer

chelsea flowers inside your home

Channel some RHS Chelsea Flower Show magic with some blooming marvellous home accessories. Sam Wylie-Harris reveals her pick of the bunch.

Fashions and trends may come and go – but year in, year out, the world’s most famous horticultural event never fails to spark us all to have a spring fling and take inspiration from its fabulous flowery displays.

We’re talking about the RHS Chelsea Flower Show (May 21-25), of course. Whether or not you can make it to the gardening extravaganza in person, embracing blooms in home styling won’t be a challenge – and there’s a vivid landscape to pick from.

“We’re seeing more adventurous colour and fabric selections coming through when it comes to upholstery, and our love of florals continues to flourish,” says Vanessa Hurley-Perera, chief product officer, Sofa.com

“These bold choices are increasingly popular for accent pieces, such as armchairs, footstools and cushions,” she adds. “Long gone are the days of matching three-piece suites and itsy-bitsy prints – customers are plumping for larger designs and brilliantly bold tones.”

Check out our 13 favourite floral finds to shop now…

chelsea flowers inside your home

1. Snowdrop 2 Seat Sofa in Periwinkle Chelsea Bloom, £1640 (other items from a selection), Sofa.com

“For SS19 we’ve developed a new floral fabric, Chelsea Bloom, in Periwinkle (Blue) and Petunia (Pink), which features large blooming flowers against a dark background,” says Hurley-Perera. “The dramatic design appears to have almost been hand-painted onto your sofa, and works beautifully amongst our rich and vibrant colour scheme of super soft velvets.”

chelsea flowers inside your home

2. Millport Pair of Small Fabric Scatter Cushions, currently reduced to £55 from £75, Furniture Village

You can never have too many cushions, especially when pretty pink sprigs are planted among the greenery.

chelsea flowers inside your home

3. Feather Juju Wall Decoration, £85, OKA

Very swish, this feather deco in the shape of an exotic flower deserves a Best in Show. And if you really want to transform a wall, you could frame a mirror with a bloom on either side.

chelsea flowers inside your home

4. Gold Birdcage Tealight Holder, currently reduced to £39 from £79, Furniture Village

The joy of this whimsy deco is that you can dress it up to suit any scheme. If your space is a pop of colour, mix’n’match bright tealights. Otherwise, keep tealights white and tie a silk ribbon through the loop, or – even better – drape some faux greenery along one side of the cage.

chelsea flowers inside your home

5. Portmeirion Botanic Garden Plate (8 inch), from £15; Teapot (2pt), £66; Teacup and Saucer, £18.50, Portmeirion.co.uk

Throwing a garden party? When it comes to floral-inspired teas, sometimes you just can’t beat the classics. We’ve been foraging for the celebrated Botanic Garden range for 40 years; the collection offers endless possibilities with its iconic designs.

chelsea flowers inside your home

6. Yankee Candle Salt Mist Rose, £23.99, The Yankee Candle Company

Yankee Candle are celebrating their 50th anniversary with 16 limited-edition fragrances. We love Salt Mist Rose, which first came to light in the Nineties, and is characterised by ‘the beautiful scent of delicate roses by the sea’.

chelsea flowers inside your home

7. Set of Six Peony Glasses, £69, Graham & Green

Versatile and very pretty, these coloured tumblers are etched with blooms and will be the toast of Happy Hour.

chelsea flowers inside your home

8. Bentwood and Rattan Flower Chairs and Table, £850 for the set, Raj Tent Club

Ideally, this terrific trio is best suited to a conservatory, but would look just as striking in a sunny corner or bedroom setting. Especially with a trendy succulent resting on the table.

chelsea flowers inside your home

9. Morrisons Flourish Jug, £14, Morrisons

This gorgeous jug imbibes a meadow of wild flowers.

chelsea flowers inside your home

10. Pack of Twenty Boho Floral Napkins, £3.95, Graham and Green

A favourite with party planners, you don’t need to be a flower child to prize these quirky napkins.

chelsea flowers inside your home

11. Flower Market Everyday Bowl, £59, Amara

With a lovely vintage feel, you can almost sense the exotic fragrance resonating from this beautiful bunch.

12. Morrisons Flourish Duvet Cover & Pillowcases Sulphur Meadow Bouquet, from £16; Ditsy Bedspread, £27; Bumblebee Cushion, £8, Morrisons

This new Flourish range brings the countryside one step closer to home with its blousy florals, ditsy prints and sweet wildlife illustrations which feel like a breath of fresh air.

chelsea flowers inside your home

13. Face Imprint Plant Pots and Vases, available in White, Green and Taupe, £10.95-£17.95 each, Graham and Green

As if these quirky plant pots aren’t eye-catching enough, they could give your favourite house plant a new lease of life.

5 Fun Ways to get your Kids into the Garden this Spring

gardening with kids

Lee Connelly, aka the 'Skinny Jean Gardener', says encouraging green fingers is all about making it fun. As the weather warms up, it's time to don coats and wellies and fire up the imagination to encourage your kids to get into the garden, with fun projects to stimulate their interest.

Podcaster, former Blue Peter gardener and RHS social media host Lee Connelly, known as the ‘Skinny Jean Gardener’, is creating a children’s garden at this year’s Ideal Home Show (idealhomeshow.co.uk).

“A study by the National Trust has found that our children nowadays are spending half the amount of time outdoors as we used to when we were younger,” says Connelly. “Getting outside is all about creating memories as a family. Just getting out there, playing games and stimulating the imagination is what it’s all about.”

Fancy getting your youngsters outside for some green-fingered fun? Here, with help from his four-year-old daughter, Olive, Connelly offers five tips on how to encourage kids to get off their screens and into the great outdoors…

1. Give them their own space

Let them have their own patch in your vegetable bed or allotment. If you have limited space, use an old washing-up bowl, putting holes in the base for drainage and then creating a mini-allotment for them.

Good crops to plant include salad leaves and other fast-growing vegetables, so they can see the results quickly. “If you have an allotment, give them their own space to do what they want,” says Connelly. “It gives them a sense of responsibility. Just be there for guidance.”

gardening with kids

2. Encourage them to grow their own

“My daughter didn’t used to like eating vegetables much, until she started growing them,” says Connelly. “But start them off growing something they like eating, or they won’t care about it as much.

“Tomatoes, lettuce and peppers are a good bet. My daughter loves going to our allotment and picking the tomatoes and the strawberries and eating them while we’re down there. Pumpkins and runner beans are also good to sow.”

gardening with kids

3. Encourage wildlife

Children will be engaged when they see butterflies, beetles and other bugs. “We have a hedgehog home in our garden and we often see them in the evenings,” says Connelly. “Make your own hedgehog home – it’s cheap and easy and you can use things you have around the house. Use a plastic box that you can cut holes out of and put up against a fence line. Cover the box with natural materials such as wood. Everything needs to be accessible and easy.”

gardening with kids

4. Make wildflower seedballs

“If your kids like getting messy, this is a lot of fun,” he says. “You get clay, compost, water and wildflower seeds, mix them all together and you make these small wildflower seedballs.

“Dry them on the windowsill and then find a spare area of the garden, throw the seedballs on there and lots of wildflowers will pop up in the summer, attracting bees and butterflies.”

You can also make butterfly fizzy pop by mixing a sugary drink for them. Get a plastic bottle, put a water and sugar mix in the bottle and give it a shake to dilute it, then stuff a sponge into the neck of the bottle and hang it upside down in the garden with string. The sugary mixture will seep through the sponge, creating a magnet for butterflies.

gardening with kids

5. Make a runner bean teepee

Children love to make dens in the garden, but this one could have added interest. Create a wigwam out of bamboo, leaving a space for the entrance. You can then dig a trench around where it needs to be placed, ready to plant runner beans at the end of May or in June.

The beans will grow around the wigwam and provide shelter for the children, as well as some delicious beans. You can move it each year around the garden. Line the floor of the den with bark, gravel or matting for the kids to sit on.

Connelly’s children’s garden at the Ideal Home Show features ideas from schoolchildren, as well as his own designs. He will be hosting gardening workshops at the Ideal Home Show, open from March 22 until April 7 at Olympia London. For tickets, see idealhomeshow.co.uk.

Luxury Property Rental Preview

photo period property

This property preview is showcasing a beautiful country house, which is due to the market soon with an anticipated guide range of £7,500 to £8,500 p.c.m.

The property is a significant freehold steeped in history dating to the 15th century. Formerly the Manor House of Great Bramshill Manor, the house began as a timber framed hall in the late medieval period and it was progressively extended and developed through to the 19th century.

The result is a substantial Grade 11* listed country house of several periods, culminating in extensive refurbishment and development between 1990 and today by the current owners; resulting in a rare achievement where historic character and subtle contemporary fuse perfectly.

photo property farmhouse kitchen
farmhouse luxury kitchen

There are many notable historic architectural features including three massive Tudor chimney stacks, each with three separated diagonal flues on a rectangular base.

Inside the house there still exists magnificent Tudor brick fireplaces with four entered arches and the original 15th century winding staircase has been preserved.

photo property banqueting barn
banqueting / entertainments barn

Immediately outside there is a magnificent Grade 11 listed banqueting barn dating to the 17th century, formed of six timber frame bays, with gabled projecting porch. Leading off of this barn there is a wonderful gym space with shower.

photo property banqueting barn
banqueting / entertainments barn
photo property banqueting barn
gymnasium

Within the grounds of around 3.3 acres the formal gardens and entertaining areas are of special note, featuring a heated swimming pool and a tennis court.

photo property swimming pool
swimming pool
photo property swimming pool
swimming pool with entertainments barn in background
photo property tennis court
tennis court

For further details about this property, telephone Jacy Barwick on 01252 842100 or visit our residential letting agents and property management experts

Six fabulous flat-pack furniture brands that aren’t Ikea.

IKEA might rule the roost when it comes to home shopping - but it's not the only brand acing stylish, easy-assemble kit. By Luke Rix-Standing.

Now, we’re not knocking IKEA. Let’s face it, there’s good reason the brand is such a phenomenal success – it’s extremely difficult to compete with IKEA.

The Google of the DIY dish rack, the Microsoft of the flat-packed wardrobe, the Swedish company has now been the world’s largest furniture retailer for over a decade, and has a hold of its market like a pro wrestler waiting for the count.

But it’s not the only flat-pack retailer in life’s megastore – particularly if you’re seeking something a little more distinct, without the inflated prices of upmarket outlets.

Curious? These six brands all have something notable to offer in the flat-pack stakes, most of it delivered direct to your door. Expect Scandinavia to still feature heavily, however – you can get away from IKEA, but there’s almost no escaping the mass-produced quality of Scandi style…

alternative to Ikea flat pack businesses

1. Hem (hem.com)

It shouldn’t be surprising that Sweden claims the world’s most popular furniture brand, because the country is full of companies supplying the demand for modern, self-assembled furniture.

Stockholm-based Hem perfectly straddles the divide between IKEA’s giant assembly line and high-end high street. Its range is not as large as IKEA’s (of course), and it’s a bit costlier (full-size dining tables start at around £980), but the quality and styling is top-notch.

Products mostly come from the classic Scandi school of of minimalist, Bauhaus-inspired design, while many items claim to have assembly times of under a minute (not including the time needed to take things out of the box, of course!). Their catalogue contains a nice array of lamps, stools and ottomans, but the headline acts are in their sofa collection.

Look out for their range of mix n’ match sofa units – the Palo and Kumo series (starting at around £1070) boast modular seating units which can be attached and reattached at will to fit whatever space or style is so desired. A four-man sofa can turn into a one-man lounge chair at the swish of a detachable strut.

Hem list their prices in Euros, but ship from inventories across Europe and the US.

alternative to Ikea flat pack businesses

2. String (string.se)

Even among Swedish flat-pack furniture companies, String stands out. Its products have been legally classified as ‘applied art’. None of them come with particularly prescriptive instruction manuals, and its flagship item turns 70 years old this year. On top of that, String only stocks shelves.

String shelves are sold in modular units, attached to the wall by simple, screw-in brackets, which can be assembled in any pattern, depth or colour to suit buyers’ space, need or taste. Different units can be added and taken away as you please, or customised with hooks, racks, drawers, cabinet units, and even a foldout table.

String shelving is also stocked by a number of different brands in stores across the UK. Prices vary but the standard String unit tends to start at around £42.

alternative to Ikea flat pack businesses

3. Normann Copenhagen (normann-copenhagen.com/en)

Yep, we are still in Scandinavia (last one, we promise), but this little Danish gem ships all round the world and lists products on its website in pounds sterling. Design guru Hans Hornemann set out his stall to combine the flat-packed with the high end, aiming squarely at style-conscious city-dwellers with limited space.

In his own words: “I wanted to change the flat-pack concept and give it another meaning. A reasonably priced piece of furniture that you can fall in love with and bring home straight away.”

Check out the Ace Collection of chairs, stools and sofas, sensuously curved pieces contoured with high-comfort foam that looks anything but self-assembled. It’s aimed at the luxury market, but fine design and gorgeous upholstery means a piece can easily be a long-term investment.

alternative to Ikea flat pack businesses

4. Habitat (habitat.co.uk)

This UK interiors giant has an historic right to be on this list. IKEA may have sent flat-packed furniture into the stratosphere, but it was Habitat that gave the emerging market life.

Known as “knock-down” furniture, Habitat were flogging self-assembly, read-the-manual products back in the mid-1960s, and kick-started the flat-pack revolution that dominated the industry in the early-Seventies.

They’re still at it today, with a range of flat-packed items that stretches across their extensive catalogue. At £150, the very reasonably priced Cato desk is easy to assemble and wrought in a familiar minimalist style.

The shelving collection is well worth a gander too – the Hopkins Bookcase (£495-£695) forms a hypnotic sea of squares and rectangles, and at 198cm high is almost certainly taller than you are.

A shout out, too, to their Spencer sofa range, available in delightfully attractive array of colours. Simply affix the legs, and recline to your hearts content.

alternative to Ikea flat pack businesses

5. Ilke Homes (ilkehomes.co.uk)

OK – so it’s not furniture, but Ilke Homes deserves a place on our list. Perhaps the final stage of the flat-pack evolution, this Yorkshire-based maker of ‘modular’ homes is about as off the wall as can be.

Instead of offering websites and warehouses for easy-assembly storage and seating, the company digitally designs entire homes room by room – including walls, floors and windows – before surgically constructing them on a factory floor. The rooms are then driven to their allotted location by a fleet of lorries, and constructed on site in as little as a day.

Though you don’t have to do the assembly yourself (thank heavens), this is macro flat-packing at its logical conclusion. A two to three bedroom unit costs from around £69,000-79,000 (although, of course, there will be other costs to consider, and you need the land to put your flat-pack house on).

alternative to Ikea flat pack businesses

6. ScS (scs.co.uk)

Don’t be fooled by the name – the Sofa Carpet Specialists have more strings to their bow than just soft furnishings. They also stock a range of flat-pack furniture, often competitively priced too.

For flat-pack enthusiasts, tables are the order of the day here. With an extending table and four cream-coloured chairs, the Cruz 1.25m Extending Dining Table & Four Button Back Chairs (currently reduced to £739 from £849) is their flagship item.

But our favourite is the Julius Nest of Tables (currently reduced to £59 from £109) – a three-piece set with two smaller tables that can be stored snugly beneath the largest. The Russian doll of side tables, it’s perfect for those low on space.

alternative to Ikea flat pack businesses

Pantone Colour Of The Year 15 Ways To Add A Splash Of Coral At Home

wisteria trees wall paper

With Living Coral set to make make waves across decor trends throughout 2019, Sam Wylie-Harris reveals the sunny-hued finds to shop now.

If you’re hankering after some winter sun and desperate to get your glow on without having to leave home, Pantone’s new Colour of the Year – Living Coral – could be the next best thing to basking in some natural warmth.

A gorgeously rich coral hue with a golden undertone, we can’t think of a better way to welcome in 2019 than by brightening up the home with this happy, sunny shade.

Every year, design company Pantone look at the latest trends influencing our lives, before revealing the shade taking top spot. The colour experts cite Living Coral as a release from digital technology and social media, and a nod of recognition towards our increasing concern over environmental issues, the energising aspects of colour found in nature, and our desire for playful expression. All sounds good to us.

To celebrate everything coral without having to be ‘sur la plage’, we’ve rounded up the latest must-have decos and homewares inspired by 2019’s hottest shade…

Monkey Table Lamp
MW by Matthew Williamson Monkey Resin Table Light, £85, Debenhams (available late February). Attention-seeking and showy, if you can't resist a little bit of monkey business and thoughts of far-flung places, this designer lampshade will steal the spotlight very nicely.
wisteria trees wall paper
Wisteria in Coral Floral Wallpaper, £120 per roll, Woodchip & Magnolia (sofa and floor lamp, stylist's own) Woody wisteria trees may charm us with their violet flowers, but why settle for the usual purple petals when you can adorn the walls in climbing coral?
Seafern Wallpaper
Cole & Son Seafern Wallpaper - Coral 107/2011, £85 per roll, John Lewis Or for something closer to the real deal, this classic design inspired by botanical prints from the late 1700s delves beneath the sea to illustrate living species of coral (although more allusive), such as Staghorn and Ivory Tree.
Embroidered Velvet Palm Tree Cushion
Embroidered Velvet Palm Tree Cushion, £46, Audenza To evoke memories of tropical holidays and palm-fringed beaches, this luxe velvet cushion with its gold palm tree motif has a timeless allure
Unity Cane Wall Mirror
Unity Cane Wall Mirror, currently reduced to £95 from £145, Oliver Bonas To mirror our fascination with tribal art, this brass frame has been wrapped in woven red raffia inspired by West African celebratory masks. To make a real statement, hang one either side of a dresser or wide chest of drawers.
Orange Coral Table Lamp with Linen Shade
Orange Coral Table Lamp with Linen Shade, £125, Graham & Green An attractive objet d'art you'd expect to see in a swank retreat by the sea, the exotic coral base and pristine white shade channels beauty while also being functional. Style it with some collectible seashells for maximum impact.
Clarissa Hulse Filix Bed Linen
Clarissa Hulse Filix Bed Linen - Coral Ombre, from £19-£125, Lambswool Throw - Coral Ombre, £150, Clarissa Hulse Rise and shine... Nothing spells sassy like a burst of burnt orange, dazzling coral and a splash of lemony yellow in a bright sunrise, ombre effect. Enriched with fabulous feather fern motifs and styled with a luxurious, fringed throw, these sateen sheets are a wake-up call to wonderfulness.
Debenhams Cosmo Painterly Bud Vase
Debenhams Cosmo Painterly Bud Vase, £15, Debenhams (available late February) This bowl-shaped vase adds a fresh dimension to the colour by picking up the golden accents and adding interest with some conch pearly pink and a wash of pebble stone grey.
Bird by Toikka Red Cardinal
Oiva Toikka Bird by Toikka Red Cardinal, £282 (130 x 200mm), iittala A flight of fancy - but if you don't have to penny-pinch, this striking songbird makes a lasting impression. According to mythology, cardinals are spiritual messengers and a sighting brings good fortune, making this a deco 'defo' worth the outlay

Sell Or Add Value To Your Home? Phil Spencer Shares Some Top Tips

Phil Spencer photo

Whether you’re thinking longer term or considering putting your property on the market soon, TV’s Phil Spencer has some advice. By Vicky Shaw.

Here, TV property expert Phil Spencer, shares his insight into current housing trends, as well as the property pitfalls to watch out for…

“I’ve been involved in the housing market for over 25 years and, as with all things, there are trends. There are elements of fashion and, as with clothing, fashion changes, so be careful of that and don’t go too far out on a limb.

“There was a trend for open plan and generally opening things out, but I’d say that’s changing again.

“More en-suite bathrooms have been prioritised recently. They take up more space and don’t always add huge amounts of value when re-selling, so it will be interesting to see if this lasts. Pantries and larders are also on the up, as we crave more and more space.”

sold board

What do home owners need to be mindful of when thinking about making improvements – are there pitfalls to watch out for?

“Simply put – bad DIY. It’s obvious when somethings been done cheaply, we should all be mindful of that. You also need to be realistic with the space you’ve got. Every property has a ceiling price and as long as you’re aware of that, then you’re good.

“I would say you need to be consistent. I’ve seen expensive bathrooms in cheap houses and it can look very out of place. Always match the price bracket of fittings to that of the house.

“Also, not to make things too personal to you and your taste and lifestyle. If you’re doing it for you, great, but if you want to re-sell be careful. You always need to appeal to the largest possible denominator – there is a reason people use magnolia!”

What should home owners bear in mind when considering whether to move or improve?

Forexpert advice on your property valuation and top selling tips, go the McCarthy Holden home page and click on valuation, for a free no obligation property appraisal.

Ask An Expert: Why Is My Toddler More Interested In The Christmas Packaging?

A psychologist tells Lisa Salmon why children often like the box more than the toy.

My two-year-old son plays with the Christmas boxes and wrapping paper more than his presents. Why does he love the packaging so much?

Dr Shona Goodall, a clinical psychologist at Sheffield Children’s Hospital who has appeared on Channel 4’s Secret Life of 4 Year Olds, says: “Many of us have spent a small fortune on Christmas presents only for our toddlers to seemingly push them aside in favour of the cardboard boxes or wrapping. But Christmas packaging has more benefits for children than you might realise.

“Children of this age tend to take a great deal of interest in packaging at Christmas because removing it is often the first thing we encourage them to do. The sensory sound of the ripping noise is a quick win for them to master – it improves their hand-eye coordination and strengthens their finger pincer grip.

Childe in Christmas box

“Free (but safely supervised) play with packaging therefore offers a blank canvas to explore what they can do with the paper and boxes at their developmental stage and get creative and learn, without fear of getting it wrong.

“Playing with packaging can have other beneficial effects on their development too – it can help your son instigate positive behaviours like recycling.

“Young children love to copy at this age – you might have noticed your son will often look at you right before he’s about to do something. Caregivers attune to their child’s responses and assist them to make sense of the world, and research has shown praise will positively reinforce them to do it again.

Child in cardboard box

“By encouraging the behaviour you want to see more of, such as putting something in the bin or recycling, you can lay a fantastic foundation upon which to teach him about sustainability. That’s your chance to chat through some of the materials being played with to educate him about where they come from and where they could go next.

“So, playing with packaging will not only aid your son’s development, but also sow the seeds for him to learn all about recycling and sustainability for both your children and future generations”

For more on cardboard packaging, visit Beyond the Box

Dr Shona Goodall
Dr Shona Goodall - Interveiwed by Lisa Salmon, Press Association

The unknown, or a property market that bucks the Brexit fears?

estate agent sold board

The Market 2018

Let us start with 2018, which was peppered with challenging market conditions for residential property sales.

Because our trading year runs January to December we can report on the full picture for 2018, which may indicate the direction of travel for 2019.

Surprisingly, some branch productivity levels for house sale revenue was at or above 2017 levels, especially in the village locations. That outcome however doesn’t for one moment disguise the fact that during the first half of 2018 we saw one of the poorest levels of house sale transactions for some time, however, buyer positivity surfaced in the summer and remained reasonable through to December despite the increased chaos around Brexit.

When we say house sales were up in the second half of 2018, we are talking about house sale volumes not prices. Large house price gains are gone for a while, but like all markets when they rebound from a low they come back with a sharp and fast uptake.

The rental market performed extremely well in 2018, with a notable uplift in activity for high end rentals outside of London, especially in our core area of operation on the Berkshire / Hampshire borders.

Properties taken to the rental market in the £7,000 to £10,000 p.c.m. sector frequently saw rental offers from multiple tenants. This was driven by high end house buyers deciding to pop into a property rental for the next year or so, using some of the stamp duty funds they would have allocated on a property purchase around £2.0m. or £3.0m., and then wait and see how property values shape up post Brexit.

house let
High end rental activity compensated for house sales

One certainty

One thing that is certain, is that uncertainty impacts on the property market especially around the times of a General Election or a Referendum. How this uncertainty works its way into tangible outcomes for 2019 is not straightforward and varies in different house price sectors of the property market.

In the short term, house buyers generally will be more cautious and slower in their decision making. This doesn’t mean house prices will fall, because buyer demand remains steady and employment levels are excellent. There is the prospect of a flat market in respect of property prices, however, discerning house buyers are seeing the current market conditions as an opportunity to move whilst prices remain static. House sellers will sell successfully in the 2019 market, but they can’t expect a fancy or inflated price and must engage with the reality that over pricing will fail in a market where buyers are cautious.

Different sectors, different outcomes in 2019

Different market sectors will have different outcomes in the forthcoming months ahead. Buying decisions on property sales from around £250,000 to £1.5m. are mostly made by very localised factors such as schooling, access to work, general employment levels and family situations ranging from the three D’s (death, divorce and debt) through to the three N’s (new job, new baby, new beginnings). Decisions around such matters of day to day life will continue to be made by house buyers against the backdrop of political uncertainty, so house sales will be maintained at the current level with price sensitivity being the watchword.

Further up the property price sector, and especially in the £2.0m. to £6.0m range house buyers will be more influenced by global and political factors so we could see further negative price impacts in this sector. Savvy top end buyers are playing a waiting game, but they are there on our books and will respond to excellent marketing and a competitive price strategy.

House sellers and buyers should approach 2019 with realistic expectations, engaging positively with the new beginnings for the country and house moving opportunities and, who knows, there might well be some pleasing outcomes to report at the end of 2019.

We wish you a happy Christmas and the very best for 2019.

 

John Holden – Chairman and Managing Director McCarty Holden

POST BREXIT IMAGE LEAP

6 Alternative Christmas Trees For Small Spaces

alternative Christmas trees

Hannah Stephenson shares some dinky options for space-starved homes - or anyone who can't face the faff of a full-size tree.

Bit short of space? Can’t fit a big Christmas tree into your home, but still want something natural-looking to replace it?

Well, good news. There are wall hangings, houseplants and smaller potted trees that’ll do the job nicely and bring some festive sparkle into your home, even if you live in the smallest space with just a little walk-round room.

So, what are the options?

alternative Christmas trees

1. Nordic Rope Ladder Hanging Christmas Tree, £20, notonthehighstreet.com

A minimalist yet rustic alternative to the classic Christmas tree, this hanging tree is only 80cm tall and can be tucked up neatly against a wall. Add baubles of your choice and drape it with fairy lights to bring it to life. A great choice for those with very tight space to work with, anyone who can’t ‘cope’ with pine needles – or to decorate other areas of the home.

The wooden slats are rounded natural twigs from the bayur tree, making all of these unique.

alternative Christmas trees

2. Mini Letterbox Christmas Tree, from £32, BloomAndWild.com

A survey commissioned by Bloom & Wild found that people are downsizing their trees in a bid to cut down on costs and needle dropping – with 79% of those quizzed saying they’re opting for a smaller tree this year, while 65% of millennials will be buying a cheaper option, without sacrificing the ‘Instagram-worthy’ tradition of buying one completely.

Their mini letterbox trees, which are real and rooted, arrive with decorations, lights and a pop-up pot in a letterbox-fitting box, and can be planted in the garden after Christmas.

alternative Christmas trees

3. Mini Christmas Tree Trio, £25, Marks and Spencer

If you only have space to spare on your windowsill, this trio of frosted mini trees, in winter embossed tin containers, would make a classy edition. You’ll ideally need to place them in a cool position with some natural light and, while they’re fine kept indoors for a few weeks, after that you’ll need to move them outdoors if you want them to survive, and plant them either in a patio container or the garden. Once you’ve done that, they should continue to thrive (you’ll want to make sure the compost never totally dries out but don’t let the tree get waterlogged either, and adding some plant food to their water between late spring and early autumn is advised).

alternative Christmas trees

4. Houseplants (Luxury Basket £30), Wyevale Garden Centres

Who says it has to be a Christmas tree? There are other ways to bring some festive greenery into the home, including houseplants. If you have the space, consider gathering some houseplants together, with some white specimens, such as orchids and lilies, to create a ‘frosted’ look. You could also go for a red and green arrangement to give a room a traditional festive feel, and go as big or small as you like.

alternative Christmas trees

5. Plant Terrarium, £66.99, crocus.co.uk

Terrariums have become the must-have addition to living areas, and if you haven’t the space for a tree then you could consider planting a feast of festive plants in one of these glass enclosures instead, which should keep going beyond New Year.

Once you’ve had enough of them, you can easily change the style by swapping in new plants next year. This one’s produced from sheet glass and brass, with an antique bronze finish.

alternative Christmas trees

6. Pot-grown Tree, from £20, Wyevale Garden Centres

Eco-friendly gardeners may prefer a smaller version of the traditional Christmas tree. They can look superb – and this one is pot-grown, so can be planted in the garden afterwards.

Boxing Day due to be the next big property search event

boxing day go image

According to Rightmove there was a 200% spike in traffic between Boxing Day and 2nd January in 2018, suggesting an uplift in house buyer searches online on Boxing Day. This  is why McCarthy Holden are offering a special incentive to join the next big event in property.

Boxing Day Go Event

During November and December all a would-be house seller has to do is instruct McCarthy Holden to offer their property for sale from Boxing Day.

You can indulge in all of the traditional Boxing Day activities, happy in the knowledge that house buyers are tapping on mobile devices searching for the right property and, who knows, your house could be top of their list for viewing in the New Year.

Many of our clients have already asked to go live on the Boxing Day Go property launch, so if you are contemplating a house move in 2019 then go to our home page and click on valuation, for a free property appraisal and discover the benefits of being part of the no sale no fee and no obligation Boxing Day Go property event.

More Buyers and Tenants See Property Video Marketing

It is widely believed that video content in online marketing will increase the number of views of a product, or in this case a property, by up to 25%.

Today, the video revolution has well and truly arrived with 80% of internet users stating that they remember watching a video and its content for at least 30 days, and with 100 million internet users watching online video each and every day.

sold in 2018 using professional video, which was viewed 544 times

So it’s perhaps not surprising that in 2018 McCarthy Holden sold or let fine homes, against the backdrop of a challenging market especially in the £1.5m. to £4m. sector. Some of the fine homes we showcased are shown in this article.

With property searching more likely than not starting on a mobile phone, video content is a must have part of the property marketing mix.

Here at McCarthy Holden we make sure we film, promote and market a property to the broadest possible audience. From thirty second preview videos for use on our web site and social media, through to our big production four minute videos with professional presenters we ensure that our clients will get noticed with more clicks and engagement online.

sold in 2018 using professional video, which was viewed 522 times

Its a fact that people who have seen a video of a clients house, and then come for a viewing are far more likely to make an offer than people who have only seen standard information on Rightmove or Primelocation for example.

sold in Fleet, Hampshire using professional video, which was viewed 454 times

Every picture tells a story and we can now showcase more features about quality property than ever before. With the use of broadcast quality filming, professional presenters and editing with music etc., we produce informative property video tours designed to make our clients property stand out and be noticed above all others.

Creating professional video content is normally done by johnjoe.co.uk, and the photograph, video capture and editing take three tays to complete.

let in 2018 using professional video, which was viewed 935 times.

If you are selling or letting a property and would like the benefits of professional video marketing, then go to our home page and click on valuation for a free no obligation property appraisal.

Historic Mill House – Sale agreed November 2018

Let in the £7,000 to £10,000 p.c.m. sector, using preview video tour

A Room Without a View: How Windows Can Transform Your World

fake windows home

You can even add the sounds of birdsong. But always check the weather forecast, says Luke Rix-Standing.

In the modern home, we have – in many ways – embraced the idea of fakeness. Fake leather covers our sofas, our fireplaces are warmed by fake fires, our window sills decorated with fake pot plants.

Of course, there is a limit to what aspects of a home can be fictionalised. You can’t buy a fake fridge or washing machine, and you can’t fake a toilet for, well, obvious reasons.

But you can now fake a window, and it’s becoming increasingly popular to do so. Here’s why – and how you can try the trend, too.

fake windows home

Fake for purpose

Fake windows are examples of ‘biophilic design’ – products that tap into our innate affinity with the natural world, and imitate positive stimuli, like greenery and natural light.

As far back as the 1980s, studies suggested that well-lit rooms and large windows tend to increase the welfare of their occupants. While a 2014 study found that windowless rooms helped contribute to stress, anxiety and poor sleeping patterns.

Naturally, fake windows aren’t always a good fit (you won’t need one in a glass-glazed penthouse). But, in poky office interiors and dark, dismal basements, any window – even a fake one – can provide respite from the gloom.

Fake windows can brighten these rooms with tropical splendour, dazzling seascapes or any woodland of their choice. It’s not quite the same as the real thing, but they can do a surprisingly good job of echoing the more expansive feel of the great outdoors.

More complex fake windows are even considered a boon for late-stage dementia. The fake ‘exterior’ can often be changed at will, and this can help patients feel an affinity with the outside world, maintain their sleep cycles, and stay connected with the passage of time.

fake windows home

A window of opportunity

Unhampered by the need to show the actual outside, fake windows come in a near-infinite array of shapes, sizes and prices, from £10 posters to sophisticated LED displays worth thousands.

Companies such as Icon Wall Stickers sell ready-made ‘window posters’, depicting natural scenes with a visual depth that helps elongate a room. And even people that would lose a fight with a flat pack wardrobe can knock together something themselves. Just pick a picture of your preferred scenery and construct your very own made-to-order window frame out of wood or polystyrene.

If you’re a talented artist, paint yourself a personalised horizon, or – if you’re not – ask somebody else to do it for you. Score extra points by fashioning a set of shutters, and attaching them with hinges.

fake windows home

A multi-sensory experience

Some manufacturers have taken fake windows into the digital age, and a few well-placed LEDs can illuminate your window with a warmth akin to a sunlit glow.

Add a conventional pair of curtains, and enjoy the classic sunshine-through-the-window feel of a nice weekend lie-in, whatever time you’re getting up.

Top-of-the-range models come complete with moving backgrounds – each babbling brook or rustling tree closely choreographed to feel relaxing and real. Sky Inside UK offers plenty of options – as well as a range of skylights, in which slowly swirling clouds gradually give way to a hemisphere of stars.

Aside from its domestic clients, Sky Inside has been catering to hospitals, office blocks, and even prisons – labyrinthine structures in need of an injection of light and tranquillity. One success story involved a prison pharmacy – a dank and dimly-lit room which dealt regularly with inmates in distress.

Before installation, each inmate would be accompanied by two police officers; now one officer can escort multiple prisoners at once.

fake windows home

For the height of windowless luxury, keep an eye on Panasonic’s new prototype, the +Window, mid-development by its Future Life Factory. Product demos feature light settings that mimic six distinct weather patterns akin to the Hogwarts Great Hall, the sound of birds tweeting, and a fan calibrated to recreate the gentle caress of a summer breeze.

Just remember to check the weather forecast before you step outside. No amount of LEDs can protect you from the great British weather.

Fed Up With Smog? 5 Pollution-Resistant Plants to Help you Breathe

As the government pledges the funding of millions of trees in cities to ease pollution, an expert offers a guide to 5 smog-resistant plants.

pollution resistant plants

The government is proposing to fund the planting of millions of trees to boost housing prices in cities, to improve green spaces and help preserve the environment, gardeners can also do their bit by planting pollution-resistant plants.

David Mitchell, buying manager for horticulture at Wyevale Garden Centres, says: “Plants do have a hard time with pollution. Since the leaves need to ‘breathe’, anything that limits that exchange, such as airborne gasses or if the pores are blocked by dust and grime, will limit their potential.

“Fruit trees in particular can struggle and yields can be as low as half of what they would be in cleaner air.”

Here are five of his favourite pollution-tolerant plants and how to care for them…

pollution resistant plants

1. Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’

This ornamental pear is an exceptionally good tree for small urban gardens, with its upright, narrow shape and branches that are smothered with white blossom early in spring (April to May).

The leaves turn a vibrant red and purple in the autumn before falling and some years, the tree will produce small inedible brown fruits. It does best in moist but well drained soil (clay, sand or loam) and in full sun.

pollution resistant plants

2. Buddleia

Known as the butterfly bush, Buddleia produces clusters of deep scented flowers from midsummer into autumn. Rich in nectar, this fast-growing, hardy deciduous shrub attracts butterflies, bees and other insects, and thrives in any well-drained soil (chalk, loam or sand).

pollution resistant plants

3. Camellia

Producing rich, colourful flowers with ruffled petals and golden stamens in late winter into spring (February to April), which are offset by glossy evergreen leaves, the camellia proves that beautiful plants can also be tolerant to pollution.

Plant in light shade, in shelter, and in moist but well-drained, humus-rich, lime-free soil (loam) or in a container, in ericaceous (lime-free) compost.

pollution resistant plants

4. Buxus sempervirens

This classic British native evergreen is ideal for low hedging, boundaries or divisions in formal gardens in both modern and traditional settings.

It responds well to being trimmed and thrives in the shade, and most well-drained soils (chalk, loam or sand). It’s excellent for growing in containers, as topiary and for training as feature plants.

pollution resistant plants

5. Berberis

This easy-to-grow barberry has spiny shoots and simple leaves. Soft yellow or orange flowers appear in spring (April to May) and are followed by small berries in the autumn. This deciduous or evergreen shrub will succeed in a wide range of conditions. Plant in full sun or partial shade in well-drained humus-rich soil (chalk, loam or sand), although it will be tolerant of most soils as long as they are reasonably well-drained.