Garden composting

Cherry Butler

All Areas

What is garden composting?

Recycling unwanted garden and kitchen waste into a free, nutrient-rich soil improver and mulch. There are some basic rules to follow that will unravel the mystery.

Choose your area and container

The wooden slatted, made-to-measure compost bins are my recommendation and they look nice too. Make up a group of three somewhere accessible and in a shady corner of the garden. Plastic bins can be obtained free from the council but are a little trickier to negotiate and don’t look so attractive. Many other systems are available.

The ‘recipe’

  1. Too many grass cuttings are the downfall of most compost systems. They become a squidgy, stinky mess.
  2. Layer grass cuttings with leaves, cardboard, non-perennial weeds, cut up perennials and green prunings, kitchen waste such as vegetable peelings, pet bedding etc.
  3. Try to avoid cooked foods such as meat, fish and bread products as these can attract vermin.
  4. Add a nitrogen compost activator such as chicken or horse manure or a compost activator available in all garden centres.
  5. Ensure it is not too wet or too dry as this will halt the process. Water in dry weather and add dry product like shredded paper or straw to absorb wetness.
  6. Air is needed so all the micro-organisms and worms can get to work, so layer grass clippings with dry material or move the heap from one bay to another.

The result

Compost that is suitable to use everywhere as a soil improver, mulch and even potting. I plant my full bins with courgettes so no square inch of garden is wasted!

Horticultural consultancy

I can spend half a day in your garden identifying your plants and teaching you how to look after them. I can even help you set up a composting area.

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 [email protected], visit and follow Cathie’s Gardening School on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Leaky gut

Round & About

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We will consume between three and seven tonnes of food and drink in our lifetimes, which has to be broken down and then the nutrients absorbed across the gut barrier, before they can be utilised by the body. The size of a tennis court, the gut barrier of the small intestine is made up of a single layer of cells that not only regulate the flow of nutrients and water into the body, but also play a central role in how our immune system responds to the dietary proteins and microbes that are ingested on a daily basis.

Nothing put into the digestive system is, technically speaking, inside the body until it has been absorbed across the gut barrier. It is the gut barrier that decides what to both let in and keep out of systemic circulation.

Research shows that the integrity of the gut barrier is fundamental to health and wellbeing. If the gut barrier is compromised by ‘leaking’ between and/or through the cells (para and/or trans cellular hyperpermeability), unwanted substances might permeate through and provoke unwanted immune responses – fuelling chronic inflammation, which is the route cause of all chronic disease and is a recognised key factor in the development of autoimmunity. Some of the conditions directly associated with ‘leaky gut’ include: coeliac disease, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, spondylitis, Parkinson’s disease, endometriosis, eczema, Crohn’s disease, colitis, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.

Leakiness between the cells of the gut barrier is controlled dynamically by a protein called zonulin. The higher the levels of zonulin, the greater the leakiness between the cells. The zonulin pathway is initiated by either the presence of pathogenic bacteria and/or gluten in the gut. Dysbiosis (imbalances in the micro ecology of the gut) and leaky gut usually co exist.

The presence of either or both of these conditions will drive a state of chronic inflammation. Fortunately, you can repair ‘leaky gut’ and rebalance the micro ecology of the gut, regaining control of health and wellbeing.

Call Mark BSc (Hons) BA (Hons) mBANT CNHC on 01183 219533 or visit

Feel the Byrne

Round & About

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Jonathan Lovett chats to comedian, actor, writer and dad of two Ed Byrne, 45, who has just embarked on his biggest ever tour to date, Spoiler Alert, following a sell-out success at this year’s Edinburgh Festival

Q. What is Spoiler Alert about…or is answering that a bit of a spoiler in itself?!
“Well, I called it that partly because if there were any bad reviews people wouldn’t read them because it would say ‘Spoiler Alert’ at the top! But it’s mainly because the theme of the show is the notion of how spoilt we are in general and how we’ve become quite mollycoddled as a nation. Stuff like having to push a button to start a car rather than turn a key because it’s such a great drudgery to turn a key these days. And how it’s the trivia stuff we act really spoiled about, whereas with the big stuff, such as politics, we seem to just accept how bad things are. There was a big women’s march after Trump was elected and some people were like ‘Uhhh. What are they complaining about? We don’t live in Saudi Arabia,’ with the implication being ‘Shut up, luv. We’re not stoning you to death, what are you bothered about?!’”

Q. If you had the opportunity to say something to Donald Trump what would it be?
“If I ever did have such a marvellous opportunity I’d have to look him straight in the eye and say, ‘You really are an awful person, aren’t you?’ or maybe I would just scream ‘STOP PAINTING YOURSELF ORANGE…YOU LOOK RIDICULOUS!’”

Q. You’ve just begun an epic tour. Do you love touring this much, Ed?
“If you are really famous you can just go and play the main cities and people from little towns will come into the big cities to come and see you. Whereas if you are just ‘that bloke on Mock the Week’ you have to go to those small towns. People from Evesham can’t be bothered to go to Birmingham to see me. So I have to go to Evesham.”

Q. What was your worst gig ever done and does it still haunt you? “I’m sometimes hired to do corporate gigs and now and it can be a real struggle. On occasions there is just no laughter at all and you’re up there in front of an audience who are just there for their own thing and perhaps you’re just not the right comedian for that particular crowd. I mean, Metallica are a great band, but if I booked them to play at my in-laws’ golden wedding anniversary it might not go down particularly well. I have been on stage in the past and just wished ‘God. I wish I was a stripper’ because I would’ve got a far better response from that audience then I ever would as a comedian!”

Q. I can testify you are very funny on stage. Were you the funniest kid in your class?
“I was the classic case of having to be funny to avoid being bullied, but even at school it was bigger, louder kids that were considered funnier. My humour was a bit nerdier. So at school I would be reciting Monty Python sketches and I would be met with a kind of, ‘What the flip are you on about?’ I was probably a little more ‘niche’ as a school kid than I am now and I used to play Dungeons & Dragons even as a teenager. My cousin and I were proper little geeks and I would go into school with a spring in my stride on a Monday morning having got my wizard to Level 14 the night before.”

Q. We’ve just seen you and best mate Dara O Briain on TV in Dara & Ed’s Road to Mandalay, a follow-up to Dara & Ed’s Great Big Adventure in which you travelled the Pan-American Highway. Where next for the intrepid duo?
“Well, if they do ask us to do another one, we are both quite keen on travelling through the Nordic countries. I think there will be a lot of mileage in that. We have a tendency to think of everyone up there as Swedish but it would be really interesting to get under the skin of these places and go, ‘Swedes are like this, and Danes like this, and the Finnish do this etc’… And, if we could get Abba to reunite, that would be good. I was talking to this guy in New Zealand who reckons he saw them all living and working together in this house in New Zealand and I was like ‘Really?!’”

Q. What’s the best thing or worst thing about Dara?
“I tell you what the most interesting thing is about Dara… he doesn’t know about spoons! If you showed him a spoon and said, ‘Now, is that a soup spoon or a dessert spoon?’ he’d be like, ‘It’s a bloody spoon!’ He knows big spoons and small spoons but in-between he doesn’t know anything about them! He only knows ‘spoon’ or ‘not spoon’.”


Hearty Heaven

Liz Nicholls

All Areas

Katie Kingsley serves up some wonderfully mellow autumn dishes –perfect for those cosy November evenings…


Hearty in every sense, generous to the stomach and the soul and just what we need this gusty time of year – a sturdy soup to keep us grounded. Very simple to prepare with ingredients to stave off the most stubborn of colds.

Add 2 tbsp of olive oil and a knob of butter to a casserole and heat then add two finely diced onions, cooking for about five minutes on a medium heat until softened. Add one finely diced carrot, one finely diced parsnip, two finely diced celery stalks and continue to sauté for another five minutes or so until softened. Add 2 tsp of grated ginger, two bay leaves and five minced garlic cloves and cook for a few minutes before adding six skinless, boneless chicken thighs, stirring to coat then 500ml of chicken stock, 250ml of boiling water, 150g of red split lentils and ½ a tsp of salt. Bring to a boil then cover and simmer for 35 minutes. In the meantime, add 100ml of hot milk to 50g of flaked almonds and let this stand for as long as possible before blitzing it up with a hand blender or food processor. Remove the chicken and shred using two forks, then return this to the soup with the almond milk, cooking for a further five minutes. Adjust seasoning and serve in bowls with chopped chives, mango chutney and lemon juice to taste.

Warm Salad of roast beetroot, blue cheese and pear with horseradish cream

This salad hits all the right notes as well as being easy on the eye. A sophisticated yet practical recipe, open to additions/exclusions depending on cupboard love. Serve with a nice loaf for happy and contented lunch guests.

Heat oven to 200°C. Remove the greens from about 10 small beetroots (a mixture of red and golden) then either peel or lightly scrub under a running tap. Halve or quarter them, depending on their size then drizzle over some olive oil, season generously and roast for about 25 minutes. Make a salad dressing by whisking together 3 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tsp of runny honey and lemon juice to taste then stir through 1 tbsp of finely chopped chives and toss through salad leaves to coat. Arrange the dressed salad leaves on the plates and add the roasted beetroot then dot with small chunks of blue cheese, fresh slices of sweet pear and a scattering of chopped walnuts, pistachios or toasted hazelnuts. Finish off by mixing fresh or jarred horseradish through crème fraiche (to taste) and dolloping over the salad.

« Tip: Add fresh thyme and honey to the beetroot before you roast it.
« Extra tip! Sauté the pear slices in butter then add brown sugar to caramelise.

Maple pecan pie

This is deep and delicious, gratifyingly simple to make and a worthwhile recipe to master. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve made this. I always manage to find a reason if I fancy a slice and it keeps well if you have no guests! I like to serve this with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Heat oven to 200°C. First prepare your pastry case: it needs to be 23cm wide and about 3.5cm deep. I make a sweet shortcrust or buy 500g pre-made pastry, roll it, line the tin, prick the base, blind bake then remove your baking beans and bake for longer to get a nice golden base. Make your filling by using an electric whisk to blend together 75g of softened butter with 100g of caster sugar. Add 175g of golden syrup, 175g of maple syrup, ½ tsp of vanilla extract, ¼ tsp of salt then blend again. Gradually add three beaten eggs while whisking then stir in 300g of pecan halves. Pour into your cooled pastry case and bake for 10 minutes then turn down your oven to 160°C and continue to bake for an extra 30-35 minutes. The pie should only wobble slightly in the centre, if the pastry is beginning to burn, lay a sheet of foil over the top while it cooks. Leave to cool in its tin then serve warm or at room temperature.

Warming Wizardry

Liz Nicholls

All Areas

As we don our slippers and step snugly into October, Katie Kingsley brings us the hearty root vegetables and warming suppers we crave.

Pasta e fagioli

This is a very basic and inexpensive pasta dish, translating to ‘pasta and beans’. A good one to try, to perfect and to keep up your sleeve for whipping up as if by magic, straight from the pantry. This does not essentially need the pancetta but it is a nice touch and a worthwhile addition, if you do step out of the pantry.

Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a pan then cook 100g of pancetta (cubed or sliced) until golden and crisp, remove with a slotted spoon and leave to one side to garnish. Make a sofrito by finely chopping one onion, two carrots and two celery stalks then sauté in the pan with more oil if necessary. When soft and starting to brown, add three minced garlic cloves, cooking for a few minutes before adding 500g of fresh roughly chopped tomatoes (or one can) with 2 tsp of runny honey and season. Cook, covered, for about 20 minutes until the tomatoes have broken down then stir through 500ml of vegetable stock. Bring to a boil then add 200g of pastini (little pasta shapes), cover and simmer for 10-20 minutes or until the pasta is cooked and the sauce has thickened. Stir in a can of chickpeas for the last few minutes of cooking and serve with lots of grated parmesan and the crispy pancetta.

« Tip – Add dried herbs or sundried tomato paste for extra flavour.

Celeriac remoulade

I absolutely love making mayonnaise in this way, it is culinary wizardry. Despite this recipe never failing, it still feels like such a delicious accomplishment every time. This is great with smoked salmon or trout on a good rye bread or scallion pancakes as a refreshing starter or snack.

Measure and combine 75ml each of groundnut and olive oil. Place an egg yolk into a large bowl with 1 tbsp of Dijon mustard and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Take an electric whisk or use a food processor to add the oils in a very slow, steady stream until it is all incorporated and you have a thick mayonnaise. Add 1 tbsp of white wine vinegar and adjust seasoning to taste. Peel one celeriac and cut into matchsticks, dropping them into a bowl of water as you go with a good squeeze of lemon juice.
Take 2 small tart red apples and slice thinly, adding to the acidulated water with the celeriac then drain well, pat dry and combine with the mayonnaise. Add 1 tbsp of finely chopped dill, freshly grated or about 1 tbsp of hot horseradish from a jar and about 1 tsp of caster sugar, tasting as you go. Serve with smoked fish and lemon wedges.

Apple and Blackberry frangipane crumble

Everyone loves crumble and everyone has eaten good crumble but this is taking it to another level, good enough for any dinner party in my opinion.

Heat your oven to 180°C. Beat together 100g of softened butter with 150g of caster sugar then add 150g of ground almonds, two egg yolks and two or three tbsp of plain flour with a pinch of salt. Add ½ tsp of almond essence and beat until you have a smooth, stiff mixture. Spread into the base of a buttered 1 litre ovenproof dish and bake for 30 minutes or until set and golden. Cover it with foil for the last part of the baking if the mixture begins to get too dark. Peel, core and slice three cooking apples and toss together with 300g of fresh or frozen blackberries and the juice of half a lemon then bake in a dish for 30 minutes. In the meantime, make the crumble topping by combining together 100g of plain flour, 50g of ground almonds, 125g of chilled cubed butter and either rub together using your fingertips or pulse briefly in a food processor until you get course breadcrumbs, with some larger pieces. Stir through 35g of demerara sugar and 35g of caster sugar, sprinkle with water and roughly rake with a fork then refrigerate until you need it. When the fruit is cooked, turn up the oven to 200°C then use a slotted spoon to transfer it on top of the frangipane, with some of the juice then add your crumble topping and bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until golden.

« Tip – Add chopped hazelnuts, flaked almonds and porridge oats to your crumble topping for extra crunch.

Chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and energy production

Round & About

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I regularly see clients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) – fatigue so debilitating that they are virtually unable to function. Often CFS presents as fibromyalgia, which is chronic fatigue with the added burden of widespread pain and stiffness all over the body.

It is believed the pain associated with fibromyalgia is caused when the mitochondria (the energy production plants in our cells), desperate to supply energy to the body, switch from efficient aerobic (using oxygen) to inefficient anaerobic (no oxygen) metabolism. Anaerobic energy production creates large amounts of lactic acid.

Lactic acid, as anyone who pushes themselves when exercising knows, causes muscle pain, which dissipates after a short rest. This pain, however, does not dissipate with fibromyalgia, as the body is unable to break lactic acid down, due to mitochondrial dysfunction. The excess acid can also cause damage to muscle tissue, presenting as very sensitive areas. This process can feed on itself as the damage releases lots of free radicals (destructive molecules), which can cause additional damage if antioxidant status (the ability to neutralise free radical damage) is low. So mitochondrial dysfunction is one of the key areas when it comes to helping move the body back into balance with CFS and fibromyalgia. Healthy mitochondria require a raft of key nutrients for optimal performance, including but not limited to magnesium, B vitamins, essential fats, CoQ10, carnitine and alpha lipoic acid and must not be bathed in toxins. There are often multiple systemic imbalances going on, including but not limited to digestive dysfunction, poor antioxidant status, immune system dysregulation, chronic inflammation, viral infections, food and/or environmental sensitivities/allergies, thyroid and adrenal dysfunction and micronutrient deficiencies. Nothing exists in isolation. Once again looking at the body from a functional and holistic perspective is key.

Call Mark BSc (Hons) BA (Hons) mBANT CNHC on 01183 219533 or visit

True Colours

Liz Nicholls

All Areas

Liz Nicholls chats to world-famous decorative painting expert and queen of chalk paint products, Annie Sloan, 69, who lives in Oxford.

Q. Lovely to chat to you, Annie! Is your house, like mine, a work in progress?
“Yes! I’m so busy it will never be finished. It looks good in parts – so long as I look in the right direction! Of course, it’s very colourful! I don’t have a favourite shade – for me, it’s all about combinations.”

Q. Which artist made a big impression on you as a child?
“Gauguin made a real impression; my father was a fan and we had a lot of prints around the house. I identified with him. His use of colour is pretty strong and he made me want to paint.”

Q. I’ve got to ask you about your music – your pre-punk proto-girl band The Moodies!
“Ah yes – that part of my life still follows me around! We’re talking 1971-74 and yet the band really resonated with people, still does. We had some great fans – Mick Jagger, David Bowie… I think back to those times and think ‘how weird!”

Q. Did you meet Bowie?
“Yes, amazingly. He came to see us play – it was at a cool bar in London called The Last Resort. I was keen to talk to him but it was difficult, I’m afraid, because that night he was looking for cocaine and quite out of it. This was in his gaunt, pale, skinny phase. But we did chat about art school and south London, where he was born and I used to live.”

Q. You’re a citizen of the world – born in Australia to a Scottish father and Fijian mother – do you still find inspiration on your travels?
“Yes; absolutely. I’ve just got back from Oregon and San Francisco. Portland is the coolest place ever! San Francisco used to be the place of flower power but now it’s one of the most expensive places in the world because Yahoo and Google are there; you’ve got these young girls and guys earning mega-bucks and lots of ‘normal’ people who can’t afford to live there, so the city’s a bit schizophrenic. It actually made Oxford look affordable! I always love travelling and seeing what the hipsters are up to. In Portland, there are lots of wooden Victorian painted houses painted in a gorgeous array of colours. I absorb inspiration from everywhere.”

Q. Do you visit a lot of galleries?
“We are so, so lucky to have two amazing galleries in Oxford – Modern Art Oxford and the Ashmolean. I don’t go to London as much as I used to; I used to go to them all. But whenever I travel I always try to see an exhibition; that feeds my soul hugely. I went to an amazing exhibition in America last week – celebrating 50 years since the summer of love – 1967. Haight-Ashbury, flowers in your hair, all that. It was superb.”

Q. Do you listen to much music?
“Yes, I listen to a lot; anything that relaxes me, any genre. I love Iggy Pop’s show [on BBC R6, Fridays]. He makes me laugh and I love his taste in music and that gravelly voice! My big love is also podcasts. This American Life and Radio Lab are my current faves.”

Q. You started your network of Annie Sloan shops and range of products has expanded hugely from humble beginnings – how does that make you feel?
“Having success in my business is nice – not just financially but I love to support the shops, the network of independent businesses – that’s very rewarding. We all work together. It’s hard in retail at the moment, particularly with the world the way it is.”

Q. Are you at the happiest point in your life, do you think?
“Really, I’ve always been quite happy and grounded. That’s why I moved away from the art scene proper early on – some of it really has a tendency to disappearing up its own bottom. People often tell me I’ve had an impact on their life and inspired them to paint or upcycle, which is fantastic as that’s what it’s all about. Life’s pleasures are often momentary – a good cup of tea, a great exhibition that makes you think ‘I want to create, I want to paint!” I’m happiest with a paintbrush in my hand. I have to find time to make sure I paint, paint, paint as that’s what makes me tick.”

Visit for details of Annie’s local shops and products, including the new stencil range.

Fruitful Pursuits

Liz Nicholls

All Areas

As August arrives, Katie Kingsley serves up three dishes which make the most of the flavours and textures of the height of summer.

Plum and almond loaf

A simple, pretty little number. Great when you don’t have much time on your hands but still fancy something a bit special (and plums are at their best this time of year).

Heat oven to 160°C and grease and line a 900g/2lb loaf tin with baking paper. Take a large bowl and add 150g of self raising flour, 150g of golden caster sugar, 100g of ground almonds, 175g of softened unsalted butter, three eggs, ½ tsp of almond extract and pinch of salt. Use an electric mixer to beat together well, for about five minutes until very light and fluffy. Stone and slice three ripe plums then stir through the mix before spooning into your tin and baking for 1 hour 15 to 1 hour 30 minutes, when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Let cake cool in tin before removing onto a wire rack. Warm three tbsp of plum jam in a small pan and brush over the top of the loaf. Stone and slice two more ripe plums and lay atop the cake then brush liberally with more jam and sprinkle with toasted flaked almonds.

Harissa and sweet pepper chicken with spiked couscous

Save this one for a cooler day; it’s great mid-week but also special enough for Friday night. Just double everything to serve four, and the kids will love this, too!

Heat two tablespoons of oil in a wide-bottomed pan and sauté a chopped onion before adding three sliced red peppers, six halved boneless, skinless chicken thighs and three or four minced garlic cloves. Once the chicken has browned, mix together two teaspoon of harissa paste with 150ml of water and add to the chicken mix. Once simmering, cover and cook for about 30 minutes. Carefully remove the chicken and blend the sauce with a hand blender, or in a food processor, until smooth. Return the chicken to the sauce and cook for a further 10-15 minutes until the sauce has thickened. I like to add a knob of butter and check seasoning at this point while I prepare the couscous. Cook the couscous, according to packet instructions then fluff up, adding lemon juice to taste. Fry a tin of drained chickpeas in a little oil until golden then add ½ tsp each of ground cinnamon and ground cumin until fragrant. Add the spiced chickpeas to your couscous and scatter with toasted flaked almonds and fresh parsley, serving alongside the harissa chicken.

End of summer tomato fritters

These I believe are a speciality in Santorini (known there as keftedes) where sweet ripe tomatoes are a plenty. They are a great way to showcase beautiful tomatoes where maybe you are lucky enough to grow them and find yourself in abundance, but if not try to use the best quality you can find as it really will make a difference. Just as good simply dipped into tzatziki for a snack as they are sandwiched between toasted sourdough and an oozy poached egg for breakfast. Roughly chop 1kg of good quality ripe tomatoes and drain away the juice over a sieve then transfer the flesh to a large bowl. Grate two brown onions and 1 small courgette then squeeze out the moisture before adding to the bowl with 200g of plain flour, a bunch of finely chopped basil, 1 tbsp of olive oil and season generously.

Mix everything together until well combined and heat rapeseed oil in a saucepan to very hot. You will know when the oil is ready by dropping in a pea-sized dollop of mixture, it should sink but then rise to the surface bubbling. Use two tablespoons to carefully dollop bite-sized spoonfuls of the mixture into the oil being careful not to overcrowd the pan (I did about three at once). If your mixture breaks up, add more flour and mix again well before frying more. The fritters will take two or three minutes to cook through, if still raw, inside then turn down the oil and cook for longer, you should have a crisp shell and perfectly cooked centre. Drain on kitchen paper before serving with an extra sprinkle of salt.

Full Floella

Liz Nicholls

All Areas

Liz Nicholls chats to Baroness Floella Benjamin, OBE

Q. Hello Floella! I know you love to write – do you have any tips for our readers who might like to write a short story and don’t know where to start?
“Yes, firstly, don’t get it right, get it written! You can always go back and change or chuck it later, after all. You might not know where to start, but once you start to inhabit that world you’ve created, the imagination will help you find a way. Also: use your experiences. Children are wonderful natural writers because they’re seeing things for the first time. So, remember the innocence of when you saw the moon for the first time, a river, a butterfly, rabbit! I always like writing with pen and paper – you feel your hand move across the page which is wonderful. Don’t tell yourself you can’t do it! You can!”

Q. You love to sing, don’t you?
“I love singing! When I’m singing I go into orbit – I just float. My father was a jazz musician and I used to sing with his band. He used to say ‘feel the song, feel the words’. You don’t even have to have a great voice; Frank Sinatra didn’t, but he lived every word. As children, we used to sing the blues while we did the chores [bursts into song]! You feel lighter, and don’t notice you’re working! My mum used to sing Jim Reeves but she had a terrible voice. Every birthday she’d call up and sing Happy Birthday really badly, and now that she’s gone my brothers and sisters all take turns to sing it in her voice. And I used to love singing on Playschool!”

Q. You’ll be 68 this month; how do you stay so full of beans?
“I did my stretching this morning before I spoke to you; I like to stay supple. I ran ten consecutive marathons but one day my body gave up and said no more of that! I used to be president of the Ramblers’ Association and still walk a lot; for Easter I went to Cumbria and walked for nine hours a day – it’s my spiritual home. I’m not a gym-goer, but am always running up and down stairs, hoovering the stairs, carrying bags. I’m conscious I’m getting older and have to stay mentally and physically fit. I try to remember phone numbers and, when I’m giving a speech, I never have a script. We live in an age where you press button and it’s done, it’s instant. But the brain is like a muscle – you have to keep it fit. I might have a glass of champagne on special occasions but I’m not a big drinker. Apart from that, I keep smiling! It makes you resilient and strong.”

Q. What’s your secret to a long, happy marriage?
“I’m such a lucky girl, to be honest; I was born into a family full of love and left the bosom of my family to fall in love with a man who loved me so passionately. Keith and I were born a day apart and we’re made for each other. When I was ten I came to London from Trinidad and he came to London from Manchester. We lived in Chiswick, a few streets from each other and, for the next nine years we probably criss-crossed paths across London. Then we met in a theatre, 47 years ago, and have been together ever since. We have such a pure partnership; it makes us confident in ourselves.”

Q. How does it feel to be a baroness?
“I tell you something: life has a mysterious way of working out and I’m so grateful to be treated with such affection. We used to live in Anerley [in south London] and my mum really wanted to move to Beckenham – a very white, middle-class area with the best healthcare and best jumble sales! We went to go and view a house there and someone called the police to say black people were there, and they might steal the fixtures and fittings. Anyway, my mum bought that house and we lived there for 40 years. They’re both buried now, my parents, in Beckenham and, once I became a baroness, I visited them in the cemetery there. I told them my news and said ‘I’m now Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham – how about that for a turn-up?’ Everything that happens, you can use. Grab the positives and focus on what you can offer the world; it will reward you.”

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Pruning raspberries

Cherry Butler

All Areas

Raspberries fall into two main categories; those that fruit in the summer and those that fruit later on into autumn. They are treated very differently with regards to pruning.

Summer raspberries

These will have finished fruiting now and it should be easy to distinguish the old canes from the new ones. All the fruited canes will start to die and can be pruned right down to the ground. The new ones will have been getting in your way while picking the fruit and can now be tied in to their support. I usually cut the tops off to a sensible height but you can bend them over if space allows. Any that are weak, overcrowding or just coming up in a silly place should be removed.

Autumn raspberries

If you get it right, the autumn type should begin to fruit as the summer ones finish! They continue until the frosts set in which can be up to Christmas. They do not generally need tying in to a support as they are not as tall as the summer ones but it may be helpful for ease of picking. Pruning involves cutting all the fruited canes to the ground in February after which time new canes will emerge from the ground for fruiting later on that season and off we go again…


Raspberries need their potash in the same way as tomatoes to encourage fruiting. Ash from the wood burning stove is an excellent source and can be applied directly or put into the compost bin for later use.

Horticultural consultancy

I can spend half a day in your garden identifying your plants and teaching you how to look after them. Pruning is a skill that takes years to learn as each plant has a different requirement.

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. Please ask for details. . Email , visit and follow Cathie’s Gardening School on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.