Doctor Who at Escape Hunt

Cherry Butler

Worlds Collide, the new Doctor Who escape room in Reading, proves challenging for Cherry Butler.

Worlds Collide, the first escape game officially based on the BBC series, gives players an hour to solve various puzzles and stop the Doctor’s arch-enemies, the Cybermen, breaking though a tear in the fabric of space and time and “upgrading” the human race.

You don’t have to be a true Whovian to play, but you do need your thinking cap on to make sense of the numerous puzzles.

There are some fun pieces referencing the TV show, but they seem to be window dressing rather than knowledge about them being integral to the game. This adds to the entertainment for fans but means you can play even if you haven’t watched Doctor Who since Tom Baker was in it.

Some of the scene setting was a clever surprise, while some was a tad lengthy without really helping us get to grips with the clues.

Not all the puzzles are Doctor Who or sci-fi related. There are so many that we found it a bit tricky to focus and follow the thread; one thing distracted us for ages, but only worked later. With few of the standard letter/number codes, combination locks or hidden keys, they make for a genuine challenge.

Escape Hunt’s rooms are high tech in comparison with more home-grown games. This slickness works well for the sci-fi theme; the sleek-looking setting lives up to the screen version with plenty of light-up gizmos. On the flipside, automation can occasionally cause frustration when items break down or don’t quite connect.

The minimum age to play is 10, accompanied by an adult. Having young Doctor Who fans with sharp brains and curious minds on your team might be handy! As long as they are prepared for a taxing – but not too tense – time.

A game costs £30-£33 per person depending on the number of players (up to six in a team), so Worlds Collide is priced higher than the other rooms at Escape Hunt Reading. Alice in Puzzleland, Wild West, Viking and pirate themed games cost £20-25 per person, with concessions for students and over 60s.

Reading’s games are upstairs in Kings Walk shopping arcade. Escape Hunt also has rooms in Oxford, Bristol and other cities around the UK and worldwide.

You can find out more and book at escapehunt.com

Image courtesy of Escape Hunt

Blackbeard’s Treasure at Escape Hunt

Cherry Butler

Cherry Butler ends up all at sea in Reading’s newest escape room, Blackbeard’s Treasure at Escape Hunt.

It seems Reading residents can’t get enough of being locked in a room and trying to puzzle our way out against the clock, with numerous escape games popping up in town over the past few years. The fifth and latest, Escape Hunt, opened on 7th December.

Having assembled a crack team of sleuths – from escape room virgins to Crystal Maze Live veterans – we arrived at King’s Walk bright and early on a grey Saturday, ready to attempt to steal Blackbeard’s Treasure.

Themed on a pirate ship, the wood-clad room had been put together with great attention to detail, and was so involving that we quickly forgot that we were in a shopping centre. My “shipmates” and I had an hour to search for clues and solve the puzzles that would set us free. Sadly, our time ran out; in our defence there were a couple of technical teething issues! We left thoroughly flummoxed, but having had fun.

As well as pirates, players can channel Norse gods or outlaws in The Last Vikings and Escape From The Wild West rooms. Doctor Who fans will soon be able to immerse themselves in the first escape game officially based on the BBC series, coming to Reading in March.

A game costs £20-25 per person (£30-33 for Doctor Who) depending on the number of players (up to six in a team). They sell gift boxes, too, an alternative to giving more stuff.

Escape Hunt also has rooms in Oxford, Bristol and other cities around the UK and the world.

 You can find out more, check terms and conditions and book at escapehunt.com

Image courtesy of Escape Hunt

Wine quench marks

Cherry Butler

We uncork some of our favourites food and drink places to enjoy this summer, starting with Cherry Butler’s visit to one of Bentley’s sparkling wine-producing beauty…

Once home to hops, the fields at Jenkyn Place are now filled with vines – although at one point, it could have been Christmas trees. After buying the Hampshire estate in 1997, property entrepreneur Simon Bladon considered farming festive firs. Then he tasted some “Champagne” that turned out to be from West Sussex which he enjoyed so much he set about growing grapes.

Simon Jenkyn
Simon Jenkyn

Judging by the delicate, fruity rosé I tried (and found especially moreish), this was a wise decision. Jenkyn Place has won numerous awards, its brut cuvée scoring gold several times. Since 2016, the vineyard has produced vintage sparkling wines every year, as long as the grapes pass muster. The North Hampshire Downs climate and chalky “greensand” soil is ideal for growing the classic Champagne varieties: chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier.

Cherry Butler Vine Planting
Cherry Butler Vine Planting

Camilla, Simon’s daughter, manages the business, with dogs Bertie and Oscar and brothers Freddie and Jack lending a hand/paw. Heat killed a fifth of the first vines in 2004, when the fledgling viticulturists planted them before laying down polythene sheeting. Rebecca, Simon’s wife, informed him that of course they should have laid down the poly first (like Nigel Pargetter just had on The Archers). Despite this, they let me – a rookie – plant a new vine; I hope to return one day to taste the fruit of my labour!

Right at the top of the first field, a wooden gazebo provides a sheltered spot to take in the view, and some wine. On the north side of the Wey Valley, the sloping site is carefully landscaped. Oak trees form a windbreak; and each row of vines is bookended by roses, which act as a “canary in the mine”, picking up any pests or diseases before the vines do. An 18th-century red-brick house and walled garden with a fountain complete the English country scene.

Roses at the end of each vine row
Roses at the end of each vine row

Anyone can visit, since Simon and his winemakers offer tours on selected dates. Wine buffs will appreciate the chance to see how the grapes are produced and ask questions, while casual enthusiasts can have fun soaking up the setting and tasters. Bottles to take home are available at a discount. Happily, Jenkyn Place is a five-minute taxi ride or half-hour walk from Bentley station, so there’s no need for a designated driver.

It’s said that if Wimbledon fortnight is sunny, the autumn harvest will be good, so we wine-lovers – and the Jenkyns team – should be able to reap the rewards of a particularly fine 2018 harvest.

Tour & tasting sessions £15. Visit www.jenkynplace.com

Hardy Hibiscus

Cherry Butler

Hibiscus syriacus

  1. Large deciduous shrub with beautiful blue, pink, red or white flowers from July to September.
  2. Same family as mallows, Lavatera and hollyhocks with similar flowers.
  3. ‘Oiseau Bleu’ is a beautiful blue and always in flower on my birthday in August!
  4. ‘Woodbridge’ is deep rose with a dark centre.
  5. ‘Red Heart’ is white with a red feathered centre.
  6. ‘William R Smith’ is pure white and ‘Diana’ has single white petals with crinkled edges.
  7. The Chiffon Series has semi-double flowers and has become popular in recent years.
  8. It needs full sun and well-drained neutral soil but is not really that fussy.
  9. It can be grown alone but also paired with spring flowering shrubs such as Weigela or Philadelphus as it flowers after these or perhaps an evergreen.
  10. One point to note is that it is the last shrub to leaf up in May or June and I’m often asked if it’s died!
Cathie’s Gardening School Services now booking for September.
  1. Horticultural consultancy teaching you in your own garden.
  2. Cathie’s Garden Army to transform your garden following a consultancy.
  3. Professional pruning following a consultancy.
  4. RHS courses. Please ask for details.
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The June Gap

Cherry Butler

Have you got a bald patch in your garden border? Waiting for your buds to reach, full floral potential? Here are ten plants to fill the gaps.
  1. Astrantia always flower profusely in June. They come in many shades of cream, pink and burgundy.
  2. Hardy Geraniums are an all time favourite: there are ones suitable for shade ( G. macrorrhizum ) and those that flower all Summer long ( G. ‘Rozanne’).
  3. Violas come into their own during May and June from the meadow and woodland sweet violets to the plethora of cultivars and colours in nurseries.
  4. Aquilegias (Granny’s Bonnets) are stunning garden perennials that seed freely and grow in most soils.
  5. Iris sibirica come in beautiful shades of blue at this time of year. Often found beside ponds.
  6. Many Silene can be seen in full bloom now and are also known as campions.
  7. Alliums are a delightful onion relative giving architectural structure in the flower garden. ‘Purple Sensation’ and ‘Schubertii’ to name but two.
  8. Nigella are hardy annuals that seed freely and can be grown among perennials or in an annual border.
  9. Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle) has beautiful acid green flowers and is happy in sun or shade.
  10. Peonies are the pinnacle of cottage perennials and a delight to the senses!
Cathie’s Gardening School Services is a horticultural consultancy that can visit your garden for bespoke advice, or help to transform your garden. Professional pruning is also offered. Cathie’s Gardening School Services is now booking for September. If you are interested to learn more, RHS courses are on offer. For more details, email Follow on Facebook and Twitter

Lilacs in May

Cherry Butler

Syringa vulgaris is is the most common lilac available in this country to grow in gardens. The common name ‘lilac’ refers to the colour but there are many available.

Ten lilac tips:

  1. One point worth noting is that if you are particular about the colour it’s a good idea to buy it in flower!
  2. Container-grown plants can be planted at any time of the year but ensure they are well watered before and after planting for several months.
  3. Lilacs can be grown in most well-drained soils and thrive in alkaline, chalky ones which is good to know.
  4. They prefer a sunny site but can be grown alone or in a mixed border.
  5. It’s a true English cottage garden plant that can be combined with other shrubs and under-planted with spring bulbs or cottage perennials.
  6. Prune immediately after flowering, removing the spent blooms and cutting to a strong pair of buds.
  7. Remove suckers when young.
  8. Syringa vulgaris can grow very large so give it room; there are smaller varieties such as Syringa microphylla which can form a compact shrub for smaller gardens.
  9. Feed with blood, fish and bone or a slow release fertilizer.
  10. Don’t forget to pick and enjoy some of the flowers inside!
Cathie’s Gardening School Services include a horticultural consultancy visiting your garden for bespoke advice, Cathie’s Garden Army to transform your garden after a consultancy or professional pruning as well as RHS courses. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Organic lawn care

Cherry Butler

Why organic?

Many products available focus on quick fixes and chemicals. Lawns are for walking on and enjoying so why poison them to people, pets and wildlife? The solution? It just means thinking about it a bit differently.

Ten points for lawn success

  1. Remove large broad-leaved weeds with a daisy grubber.
  2. Rake out the moss with a scarifier or metal rake.
  3. Aerate to improve drainage using a hollow-tine aerator or garden fork.
  4. Top dress with a proprietary product or mix your own with sieved garden compost and sandy loam.
  5. Sweep away fungi and worm casts regularly.
  6. If you want stripes use a rotary mower with a large roller on the back and mow regularly.
  7. Always remove lawn clippings.
  8. Reseed any bare patches and keep watered.
  9. Feed with blood, fish and bone.
  10. Do not water established lawns.

Cathie’s Gardening school services

  1. Horticultural consultancy visiting your garden for bespoke advice.
  2. Cathie’s Garden Army to transform your garden following a consultancy
  3. Professional pruning following a consultanc
  4. RHS courses. Please ask for details.
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Mulch in March

Cherry Butler

A mulch is a soil covering of thick organic matter, such as bark or inorganic membrane, which helps to control weeds, keeps in moisture and retains soil structure.

Why mulch now!?

It looks nice and is better to walk on than bare soil. It also keeps annual weeds at bay (by smothering them) and helps reduce evaporation, keeping valuable moisture in the soil and protecting it from summer sun. Mulching also keeps plants clean (preventing soil from splashing on them in the rain), provides an excellent habitat for soil fauna and can feed the soil (depending upon material). It’s also a great way of recycling and composting and essential for reducing maintenance!

Choice of materials

Think carefully before using weed membrane; it’s an excellent solution for under gravel; large areas awaiting planting like an allotment. But don’t cover your whole garden in it because weed seeds germinate through it and you end up with a bigger problem! Fresh bark and wood chips can rob the soil of nitrogen; it is better to choose products already been composted. Fresh manure can be too strong and burn young stems, so ensure it’s well rotted. Spent mushroom compost contains lime so beware of this around acid-loving plants such as rhododendrons and camellias. Garden compost can spread weed seeds and slugs but we should all be composting kitchen and garden waste and returning to the soil (vis. my November article). All gardens benefit from the addition of organic mulch like manure or garden compost every year, ideally twice a year.

Cathie’s garden army and consultancy

Cathie can spend half a day in your garden identifying plants, advising on planting and design as well as helping you with tasks such as pruning. Lost control? Cathie’s qualified garden army can transform your garden in a day following a consultancy. New for this year, ask Cathie about small and exclusive RHS groups for dedicated students! Email , visit www.cathiesgardeningschool.co.uk and follow Cathie’s Gardening School on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Irises in February?

Cherry Butler

Winter and spring

The iris in flower during the winter months is iris unguicularis. It’s low-growing, pale mauve and even scented! During February and March the delightful Iris reticulata and Iris danfordiae come into their own in an array of mauves, blues, creams and yellows. It’s a miniature bulb so perfect for the rock garden or containers. There are many new hybrids available on the market.

Summer into autumn

Iris germanica or the bearded iris is probably the most widely recognised but often in the wrong place. They grow from rhizomes which they enjoy being baked in the sun on poor sandy soil. The range of colours is infinite! Cultivars like Cruise to Autumn, Autumn Princess and Autumn Circus as their name suggests can flower much later in the year so look out for them to extend the season.

Irises in the wet?

The yellow flag iris I. pseudacorus is a familiar sight grown as a marginal in ponds. I. sibirica can be grown in the bog garden. Both make large clumps and can be divided readily.

Surely not shade too?

Yes a few irises will grow wild in woodlands and hedgerows, notably I. foetidissima with its pale flowers followed by bright orange berries. Often called the stinking iris as when you cut it back the leaves are somewhat pungent!

Consultancy & Cathie’s Garden Army

I can spend half a day in your garden identifying your plants and teaching you how to look after them. I can advise also on planting projects and design as well as helping you with tasks such as pruning. If you have lost control of your garden completely we are here to help! A qualified team of can transform your garden in a day following a consultancy.

RHS courses

New for February small and exclusive groups for dedicated students! Email , visit www.cathiesgardeningschool.co.uk and follow Cathie’s Gardening School on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Delightful Daphnes

Cherry Butler

Daphnes vary greatly in size, colour and cultivation requirements. Every garden should have one, although they are not really happy in containers. Most prefer a sheltered situation in dappled shade and do not like hot sun. They do best on well-drained moisture retentive soil with plenty of organic matter incorporated. They do not tolerate drought or waterlogging but are well worth the effort!

Daphne mezereum

This is upright and deciduous growing up to a metre high and wide if it’s in the right place. It has fragrant pink flowers in the winter followed by red berries. It prefers a sheltered position in partial shade but can be grown in the sun if the roots are shaded.

Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’

An evergreen bushy specimen with creamy margins to the leaves. It tends to flower in late winter or early Spring with dark pink flowers that have a scent living up to it’s name. It’s not keen on drastic pruning and can get to about 1.5m in dappled shade.

Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postil’

I first saw this at Wisley and was completely knocked over by the scent. It really is the queen of Daphnes growing up to 2m in a sheltered shady situation.  As with all Daphnes established plants should not be moved. It flowers in the depths of winter and the scent is intoxicating.

Horticultural consultancy 

I can spend half a day in your garden identifying your plants and teaching you how to look after them. I can advise also on planting projects and design as well as helping you with tasks such as pruning.

Cathie’s garden army

If you have lost control of your garden completely we are here to help! A qualified team of horticulturists can transform your garden in a day following a consultancy. Email , visit www.cathiesgardeningschool.co.uk and follow Cathie’s Gardening School on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.