Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category


Gardening In Paradise

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Maddy from The Balcony Gardener team was fortunate enough to spend her Easter holidays this year on the beautiful island of Man-O-War Cay in the Bahamas, a paradise island surrounded by beautiful, tropical waters. Besides the snorkelling, sailing, sun-bathing and rum-punching, Maddy also spent time visiting local artisans who have created a rich industry amongst this small cluster of islands of woodwork, boat-building, cloth-making and copper work. She’s shared a few pictures here from her trip and also spoke with her lovely hosts the Save family about gardening on an island prone to heavy hurricanes.

Without wanting to make the rest of the team too jealous when I returned from my picturesque Easter holiday (I had treated them to copious picture of me on a paradise island either sun-bathing or with a large rum cocktail in my hand!) I was keen to show everyone pictures of the beautiful floral and fauna found on Man-O-War Cay. A small island in the Abaco region of the Bahamas, Man-O-War Cay can only be reached by boat; there are no cars on the island  and any long journeys need to be taken by golf buggy. The total distance of the island only reaches 2.5 miles long and is relatively narrow with often less than 100 metres between the harbour and beach side of the Island; so of course a golf buggy is the only way to get around! It was fascinating to see that on an island so small, it boasted such craftsmanship – we visited a wooden workshop and a cloth-making studio brimming with busy sewers.

Anne-Charlotte spends the Winter months on Man-O-War and keeps a bright and beautiful garden blossoming, I was astonished to see the size of the lush basil bush in her vegetable patch. Every year they need to prepare for the prospect of an approaching hurricane, a factor that we just don’t have to negotiate with in European gardening. Ann-Charlotte explains, “We more than hope that it will miss this island. When a hurricane hits here the wind is so strong and the ocean spray covers the houses, and will carry all the salt – this is what really kills the plants. You just hope for a good rain afterwards to clean up the salt.”

Last year, Man-O-War was one of the first hit by the destructive Hurricane Sandy and many of their plants and flowers fell victim to the mighty hurricane, as Anne-Charlotte explains: “the problem with Hurricane Sandy  was that we never got rain afterwards, so many plants simply gave up.” However looking forward, a few months on the plants are lush and growing again, “This time of the year we are replanting since we are going into summer time and the rainy season. Everything looks so pretty and green at the moment.” Anne-Charlotte kindly sent us the below picture of a beautiful orchid growing in a neighbour’s garden.

I also admired the wooden window boxes adorning many lone windows, reminding me of a few of  my favourite The Balcony Gardener’s window boxes! They are all made on the island by a carpenter called Hartley, he inherited his Father’s business and has a workshop brimming full of wooden crafts, statues and made to order wooden creations.

Sailing to a neighbouring island, we visited the copper-making studio of another artisan, the work was astonishing – using salt cases they would encase the copper in a design and shape, before knocking the salt away to reveal a copper fish, turtle, dolphin… Again the studio was full of workers and designer, all creating hand-crafted pieces.

A beautiful holiday in beautiful surroundings! What was the most revelatory was meeting such skilled craftsmen and creatives across these hidden Paradise islands, and also seeing such beautifully lush greenery. Another favourite was also the nightly cocktail watching the sun go down before dinner….Bliss!

To create your own Paradise Island look, pick a few pieces from The Balcony Gardener website:

With special thanks to Anne-Charlotte and Per.

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Travelling 2013 Style…

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Image – Bla Bla Car

In the past we have featured our most desired destinations on the Travel Lust List, they can occasionally be pretty far flung though – tree housing in New Zealand? Poppy fields in China? Great additions to a travel bucket list, but not always the most realistic and economic spots for a week long break. Over the past few months we’ve noticed different ways of travelling, there are some amazing travel websites that make the world that little bit smaller and connect you with more people around the world for an often more authentic – and better priced! – travelling adventure. We’ve put together our top three best and sustainable travel sites…

Found some great flights to Amsterdam but don’t have a clue as to where to stay? You must check out Airbnb then. This site is huge in America – founded by a couple of guys in San Francisco it provides a platform for individuals referred to as “hosts”, generally private parties, to rent unoccupied living space and other short-term lodging to guests.There are over 250,000 listings in 30,000 cities and 192 countries. The listings range from private rooms, entire apartments, castles, boats, mansions, castles, tree houses and private islands. We love nothing more than having a nose around someone’s flat – and this is the best way to do it! There are plenty of designer flats, and you can create your own wish lists of where you want to stay.

We’ve featured this great site before, the website matches up people with gardens with those looking to camp. The website allows homeowners to  advertise their garden as a temporary campsite, and campers can search for a spot where they can camp comfortably and safely. The website soon became a surprise hit after 1,100 members signed up in its first month and now a staggering 2,500 people a day are currently visiting campinmygarden.com to promote their lawn for hire or to find a cheap place to stay. Campers can pay homeowners as little as £2 per person per night to stay in their garden, often getting access to their bathroom, barbecue and wireless internet.

Hitchhiking seems a little too Stephen King for us, so instead why not try car sharing for an economic way to explore Europe? Sign up to BlaBlaCar and offer or find a ride to the destination of your choice. Passengers pay reasonable petrol costs and both drivers and riders are rigorously vetted by the site (and rated by fellow users) to ensure that everyone is who they say they are, insurance is up to date, the cars are in good nick and the drivers reliable. BlaBlaCar was born one Christmas, when founder Frédéric Mazzella, a student at Stanford, wanted to get home to his family in the French countryside. He had no car. The trains were full. The roads, too, were full of people driving home, alone in their car. It occurred to him that he should try and find one of the drivers going his way and offer to share petrol costs in exchange for use of an empty seat. He thought he could do it online, but no such site existed… The adventure had begun and Fred created an entire new transport network built on people.

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Swedish Allotment Gardens

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Like most countries during the World Wars, Sweden suffered from severe food shortages. Families were allocated small plots of land to grow vegetables, and then many built small wooden structures in which to live. Often there was only one room with all family members sleeping inside, furniture was moved aside to make way for bed-time. The tradition of keeping allotments continues now in Sweden, and many train lines are bordered by well-kept allotments and small gardens.

I’ve had my name down for an allotment in North London for the past eighteen months, last time I checked the time on the waiting list was at 20 years – so sometime in 2032 I will be able to start planting my tomatoes. In Sweden there are over 42, 000 allotment gardens; in larger cities many people live in apartments so really cherish their small green space. Many Swedes would often grow fruit and vegetable in the Summer and Autumn, and store them for the long, cold Winter ahead. At points of national crisis, allotments were crucial for for production. Nowadays, most allotment gardeners tend to their allotments for pleasure and relaxation; however with the trend of grow-your-own more people are again using their allotment for growing fruits and vegetables.

The first allotment appeared in Malmo in 1895, and they soon spread to  1895 Stockholm in 1904. A society lady Anna Lindhagen was a pioneer for the gardens, she found them delightful to look at and encouraged authorities to increase the number of gardens. The land was and still is rented from the local authorities.

If you are visiting Sweden, the allotment gardens in Tanto, central Stockholm are well worth a visit (pictured above) – particularly at the end of August when the allotment gardeners hold a harvest festival. There are all types of gardens in Tanto: designer gardens, kitchen gardens, countryside gardens, vegetable gardens, and pay particular attention to the original cottages from the 1920s, 30s and 40s.


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The Alnwick Garden by The Duchess of Northumberland

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

In 1995 the gardens at Alnwick Castle lay derelict and unkempt, they hadn’t been touched for over forty years. Most of the grounds were taken up with spruce trees part of a commercial lumber business that helped support the estate. The new Duchess of Northumberland saw a plethora of green opportunity, she was from an avid gardening family and it broke her heart to see the former gardens laid to waste. She spoke with her husband, the most recent Duke of Northumberland following the early death of his brother, and told him of her plans to renovate the extensive gardens – that they could indeed be restored to their former glory.

What originally started as a whim of the new Duchess became one of the most ambitious public gardens created in Europe since World War II. She saw an opportunity to create a modern counterpoint to the adjacent 18th-century landscape designed by Capability Brown, a tourist attraction to become known as the Versailles of the North. Along her journey she has amassed plenty of admirers, but more than a few critics as well. “The criticism I’ve had is just massive,” said the Duchess of Northumberland, “It’s really staggering the way that Britain views this project. They said I am to gardens what Imelda Marcos is to shoes.”

Whilst the Duchess was inspired by the history of the gardens, she also became increasingly determined that the garden should be modern, not a recreation of Alnwick’s long-derelict 18th- and 19th-century gardens. And so the project attracted controversy as it became more ambitious, instead of traditional British garden designers she hired Jacques Wirtz, a Belgian landscape architect considered by some the modern equivalent of André Le Nôtre, the designer of the gardens at Versailles. He is known for a critically acclaimed redesign of the Carrousel Garden in the Tuileries in Paris, and for redoing the gardens of Élysée Palace, the residence of French presidents.

Image: Gardenista

The plans soon escalated and included prominent features of the old garden like the Grand Cascade, a multitiered hillside waterfall and fountain that is the visual centerpiece of the site; a formal ornamental garden with water rills that contains one of the largest collections of European plants in Britain; a Rose Garden with 3,000 roses in 180 varieties; a Serpent Garden with swirling yew hedges and eight stainless steel water sculptures by William Pye, an English sculptor; the Bamboo Labyrinth, with 500 bamboo plants; a £5 million treehouse built amid 17 lime trees, with an education centre inside, a restaurant that seats 80 people and thousands of square feet of suspended walkways; and the Poison Garden, a spooky fenced-off area with about 100 varieties of toxic plants, as well as cannabis, cocaine and opium poppies.

Image: Gardenista

Over a decade later the gardens are open and thriving, they are a huge tourist attraction to the North region, and somewhat of a mecca for gardening enthusiasts. The Duchess of Northumberland was inspired by a trip to the world’s oldest Botanical Gardens in Padua and created the Poison Garden after her trip, a tunnel of ivy leading to the gardens and numerous deadly plants are housed inside.

Image: The Alnwick Gardens

One of our favourite features is the magical Tree House, hidden in the mature lime trees outside the walls of the gardens; one of the largest in the world. The Treehouse is so at home in its environment that it appears to have been there for many years, wooden walkways climb up into the treetops, and there is a decked veranda with walkways and bridges leading out into the tree canopy.

If you’re in Northumberland, you must pay a visit to this gardening spectacular!

Find more information on Alnwick Garden here.

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A Californian Garden that Grows Cocktails

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Image: Gardenista

Napa Valley is one of our favourite spots – good wine, great food and lovely gardens. Sonoma County is its lesser know sibling and is just next to Napa. Whilst the majority of wine-tasters and tourists head to Napa, Sonoma is putting itself on the map with delicious wineries and new restaurants. Medlock Ames in Healdsburg, part of the beautiful Alexander Valley is a wonderful find. The vineyard sits in the heart of rolling country surrounded by hills and beautiful views across the wine county.

Image: inhabitat

The vineyard was opened in 1998 by good friends Chris James and Ames Morison, their want was to open a wine-producing estate that didn’t rely on insecticides, chemical fertilisers or herbicides. Instead all of the farming is organic, solar power provides all the energy needed to run the estate and only 56 of the 375 acres are farmed, the majority of land is left in a natural state. They keep the remaining ground for oaks and wildflowers to grow naturally. Chris and Ames have been keen to retain traditional methods, the property is self-sufficient, too, with five ponds for collecting rainwater,  and a huge vegetable garden that produces many staff lunches. The winery building is essentially self-sustaining, with thick stone walls to maintain a cool cellar temperature and lots of windows to let in natural light. The structure is built on several levels, which permits the winemaker to move juice using gravity rather than pumps, a gentle method that prevents bitter flavors from developing. The portfolio includes Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Reserve Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, a Red Bordeaux Blend, estate bottled olive oil, verjus and preserves.

Image: Food and Wine

We were particularly excited to hear more about their tasting room – which turns into a busy cocktail bar in the evening. There’s an eclectic cocktail menu that, more often than not, uses the fresh ingredients direct from the garden. The cocktails are all inspired by the plants – customers can choose from ginger thyme martinis, spicy margaritas using pepper and fresh coriander or borage cocktails.

If you’re in that neck of the woods – we would recommend a visit and be sure to tell us what you think!

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