How To, Kathryn, Recipe

Chestnut RecipeIt’s that time of the season where the roads and paths are littered with browned leaves and twigs, the sky is largely grey and there’s a new, chilly wind which bites at your fingers – Autumn has arrived.

But before you sulk and mourn for summer, take a harder look at the ground next time you walk through a rural area and notice the treasures the season has brought for us. I speak of course of those spiky green balls which will soon plummet to the ground from the tree tops, our old friend the chestnut.

Chestnuts ripen around October – November and can be enjoyed raw, roasted and used as ingredients in various delicious dishes.

If ever you should fancy a little natural nibble whilst walking in the wilderness, ensure that the chestnut is good, firm and healthy looking before peeling back the brown skin, revealing creamy greenish flesh. Raw chestnut flesh has the texture of a carrot and tastes a little bit like a nutty pea with a slightly smokey aftertaste.

If you’re looking for a more traditional and less Bear Grylls approach to enjoying our favourite wild nut, then collecting a pocketful ready to roast at home is a classical option. Roasting chestnuts around an open fire has been a winter past time going back centuries. So whether you just want a tasty treat or fancy reminiscing your time with the scouts, here’s how to roast a chestnut, the sensible, indoor way.

  1. Preheat your oven to 400ºF (205ºC).
  2. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut an ‘x’ into the nuts to allow steam to escape.
  3. Spread the nuts across a rimmed baking sheet with their cut side up, and slide directly into the oven.
  4. Now you have fifteen to twenty minutes to wait. Make a cuppa or pour some scotch and ready a hot towel and a large bowl. Ensure that the nuts don’t burn by moving them frequently.
  5. After 20 minutes, wrap the chestnuts in a hot towel and squeeze them in order to loosen the skins. Leave wrapped in towel for five minutes.
  6. Now, take a chestnut and peel the skin while the nut is still warm.
  7. Take a bite and enjoy the warm, nutty goodness.

Best of all, unlike other nuts, chestnuts are low in saturated fat, so that’s at least one guilt-free winter indulgence.

KathrynKathryn works on the marketing team and spends most of her time making our website read better.

She has a degree in English & Creative Writing and loves classic cars, 1970s music and ginger beer.

She writes our fictional stories and seasonal posts.

See all of Kathryn’s posts.

Flowers, Gardening, How To, Paul Peacock - Mr Digwell, Planting

We all know that pruning is a very important task in your garden, but we’re often asked about pruning roses and other shrubs.

Rosa 'Iceberg' at the San Jose Heritage Rose GardenIf the shrub flowers on current year’s wood, then cut it back hard each winter. Buddleia is a good example – If you simply trim the plant it will become leggy and bare at the bottom. Cut each stem back from October onwards to within a foot from the ground and you will get vigorous, healthy growth in the new season.

If you have inherited an old shrub with little foliage on the lower half of the plant, take out the older branches thus leaving some newer ones to maintain health. Continue taking out the oldest branches each year and within two seasons you will have a new looking shrub.

There are some special cases, such as those roses in need of specialist pruning. Usually they are cut short – just above a bud which will grow into a new branch and consequently bear flowers.

Rosa 'Banzai 83' im Volksgarten in WienThere are lots of reasons for pruning shrubs. Unlike the rest of us, roses are not able to forecast the weather, and they take the mild weather as a trigger to put on new growth, and off they go doing what they do best – growing towards the sun.

Actually, roses are really glorified brambles, and if left alone they would soon become a tangled mess, impenetrable and thick – which might be good in a hedge, but not in the flower border. To keep them under control is the most important part of growing roses.

General rules for pruning roses:

  • Deadhead – and in the winter, go round pruning off the fruit that is rotting off on the plant. We all have them in our garden, and it is good to get rid before they cause infection.
  • Don’t leave a long piece of stem from a bud, it will only die and rot – cut as close to a bud as you can.
  • Always cut in a sloping direction away from the bud, so that any rain will actually run off the cut and not soak the bud – which can cause rotting.
  • Always take out branches that touch or threaten to touch another branch.
  • Always cut out dead wood back to good, healthy wood.
  • Do not leave your cuttings on the floor to rot, burn them and then compost the ashes – rose branches take ages to compost themselves.
  • Remember the goblet shape, and this goes for standard roses too, at the top of the central stem.
  • Always use good quality secateurs – so the cut is sharp and clean, ragged cuts provide a home for fungal infection.
  • Always disinfect your secateurs when you have finished a plant – I use a disinfectant baby wipe – you don’t need to pass infections from plant to plant.

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.

See all of Mr Digwell’s posts.

Decoration, Fire Pits, Guest Posts, How To, Lighting, Outdoor Heating

garden lights
Image by Wonderlane

Throwing a party is always fun – but especially when it is a garden party.  With your garden, there are many things you can do to transform it into a beautiful party location. Just a few special items and thought-out finishing touches will turn your garden into something so magical that your guests will not want to leave.  After reading about these wonderful accessories and the atmosphere they could create for you, your parties will never be the same again.

1. Low Voltage LED Light Net

Drape these sweet little lights over your hedges, trees or shrubs to create a magical and romantic effect, just like those created in the movies.  If your garden doesn’t have  greenery at hand, then hang them from your walls or fences, creating a relaxing atmosphere and calming ambience for your guests.

These lights are low voltage, so they will not be too bright and glaring, leading to soft lighting that will set the mood rather than blind anyone!  White lights would be the perfect colour choice, because it is versatile and soothing, which is what you want for a relaxed garden party.

2. Mosaic Fire Pit

A mosaic fire pit is both practical and picturesque.  This is a unique accessory that will make the atmosphere of your garden party absolutely amazing.  You can use it as a table, which would show off the beautiful mosaic pattern, or you could use it as a fire pit, which would keep your guests warm and produce a shimmering fire.  The fire pit also has a removable grill, which can be used as a barbecue.

3. Indian Garden Parasol

An Indian garden parasol is the perfect centrepiece for a garden party.  The gorgeous details, combined with the beautiful colours, will make your garden look all the more special, while providing shade for your guests.

4. Good Quality Tablecloth

Buying a good quality tablecloth will help to make your garden party look beautiful.  A good quality tablecloth improves the overall presentation, as it looks fresh, crisp and slick on top of the tables, displaying the food and drink. A colourful, enticing tablecloth can make your delicious buffet spread look even tastier!

Why not try a natural white table cloth? Or bright vibrant colours and patterns? Once you’ve got your theme, you can create a look which will captivate your guests and make your party a night to remember.

5. Vintage Style Glassware

Your party wouldn’t be complete without the necessary accessories to serve food and drink to your guests.  Displays, glassware and serving utensils are the finishing touches that pull everything together, so consider using special items that are beautiful .

If you  prefer products that are unique and colourful, yet with a classic twist, then how about vintage style glassware?  A small number of vintage style goblets, dessert bowls and cake plates would be eye-catching additions to brighten up your tables.

These are just a small number of the accessories you could use to transform your garden into a stunning party location, with a magical atmosphere for all your guests to enjoy.  Are there any accessories you would recommend? Share your thoughts below.


Shaniqua is a lifestyle blogger from London, who likes to write plays in her spare time.  She enjoys planning and hosting parties and recommends Wipe Easy Tablecloths.

Flowers, Gardening, How To, Paul Peacock - Mr Digwell, Planting

National Plants at Work WeekIt might be the only member of the office team you can trust, it might hide you and your growing mound of paperwork from the eye line of your bosses or it might just be the only living reminder of a world outside, a garden and a life of greener things.

But the office plant really is one of the team, and deserves looking after.

So here are ten tips for keeping your plant really healthy:

1 – Let there be light

You need to ensure that your plant has sufficient light to be able to grow. Many offices, especially large ones have only low powered strip lighting, fit neither for plant nor beast. So if you want to see your plant doing well, get it as much natural light as possible.

Sometimes it’s a good idea to take you plant on holiday for a week to your home to get all boosted and pampered. If you want to keep your plant on the desk, move it for a few hours during the day to a window, but watch out for our next tip.

2 – Watch out for the radiators

Pink Orchid

In most offices, like most homes, the radiator is near the window – the coldest part of the room. Some offices have blown air conditioning. Both of these can be detrimental to plants, making them too hot, and drying them out more rapidly than normal.

Find a light source that is cool, without radiators and away from other electrical equipment.

3 – It’s not a plant stand

Computers and plants do not mix, especially where they are high powered machines giving off lots of heat and radiation. The number of accidents from spilt watering probably costs businesses more than they can afford, and probably a number of lost jobs to boot.

4 – Don’t overwater

Lucky BambooWe all do it, but interestingly more at work. People tend to overwater, thinking this is the way to keep the plant alive. If the compost feels slightly damp, it’s fine! Leave it alone.

Most plants do not want to be sat in a pot in a saucer of water – it’s not a cat, it’s a plant and waterlogged roots don’t encourage good plant health.

5 – Feed once a month

The problem with plants in pots is they run out of nutrients quickly, so once a month, give them a feed that is correctly diluted. Plants lacking nutrients look as though they are wilting, and therefore people simply give them extra water! Don’t, a feed a month is fine.

6 – Get to know your plant

Bromeliad TillandsiaThe most important part of any plant in office or at home is get to understand what it needs.

  • If it has thick leaves that look all spongy, it likes dry conditions.
  • If it has hairy leaves, it usually likes a wide pot, like St Paulias.
  • If it is blueish, it doesn’t particularly like bright sunlight all day long.

7 – Don’t put your brew next to your plant

This is the quickest way to destroy your plant. The heat from the cup causes local damage and the steam moistens the leaves. This causes a prime source of infection from fungi, and your plants will get sick.

8 – Repot and divide your plants

OrchidOnce a year move the plant to a bigger pot and give it fresh compost.

Learn how to divide your plant and you can give them away to other offices too!

9 – Keep them on a tray

In order to separate the world of plant from the world of desk, keep your plant on a tray, which will then cope with minor spillages and keep the whole area from disaster.

10 – Stop touching

daffodilsIf you touch, so will others, and during the course of the week the plant might easily become damaged from too much handling.

Some plants when touched, or worse, when broken, have a self help mechanism to make themselves look unpalatable to potential herbivores, so constant handling might well cause problems.

Take a look at the Primrose office plants and 5 ways indoor gardening will improve your life.

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.

See all of Mr Digwell’s posts.