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I absolutely adore peonies and over the past year we have planted dozens of new ones - both the regular bushy peonies and the so-called 'tree' peonies.
For me, the peony is one of the first BIG flowers of the spring and summer. Most of the early flowers in the garden are little ones. You start with the timid little snow drops, follow with the rather modest and simple tulips and daffodils and then suddenly along come the show stopping frilly stars of my garden.
Peonies produce large, multi petal flowers about the size of your fist or a large potato. I have them in a wide range of pinks and in white and the blooms are gorgeous. The only issue I have is that peonies really do need to be supported with metal (or other) frames or else thy have a tendency to get absolutely flattened the first time a big rain storm comes along.
In theory they make great cut flowers. In practice I just can't bring myself to cut something so beautiful. The sad part is that the flowers only ever come the once, no matter how much I try to dead-head and then I'm left with a lot of pleasant but not particularly exciting green bushes for the rest of the season.
We've been in our house for 11 years now and the best of the peonies have probably been going for about 8 years. Undoubtedly they get better and bigger every year but in the first year or two you may find their performance a little disappointing. Peonies are best planted for the long term.
For several years I have been a dedicated fan of the Sure for Women Maximum Protection 48 hour deodorant. I first tested it with Buzzagent and soon became a loyalist. There were however two problems with that product. Firstly it's expensive and secondly the pack is very bulky. When I spotted the Sure Cotton Dry product had very similar claims but a much less bulky pack, and cost significantly less, I decided to give it a go.
Some may ask why size is so important (no sniggering ladies) and for me it's a critical factor in choosing toiletries. I travel most weeks and when I fly (several times a month) I try to live within the constraints of what's allowable in hand luggage. The old Sure product which is a cream that dispenses through a bulky pack took up far too much space in my tiny toiletries bag. Shampoos, conditioners or body lotions can all be decanted into smaller packs but with AP/Deos you really can't do that. The Sure Anti perspirant pack is about 2/3 the size of my old favourite and seems to be every bit as effective. It costs around £3 compared to £5 or more for the other.
The product is a solid stick that doesn't seem to suffer too much from being used in hot countries. The bottom or the pack is twisted to bring the stick up and then it's rubbed against your underarms. It's less sticky than my previous product and doesn't need long to dry. I also find it's less likely to stain my clothes which is a clear plus point.
I'm now a convert. I've stuck with Sure, maintained the high level of performance, but cut the size and the cost.
I adore Neal's Yard products especially their hand creams. I have quite a collection but I have to confess I've never paid full price for any of them. My collection comprises a wide range of products that have been acquired as 'gift with purchase' samples on women's magazines. I don't read the magazines, but I'm quite capable of buying several copies just to get the hand cream or other goodies.
Most recently one of the magazines had three different variants of the cream available. I already had two of them so I bought a second bergamot and garden mint (it's awesome) and this tube of Wild Rose.
I love a GOOD rose scent but I'd be the first to admit that not all roses are created equal. I don't want childish rose scents - the cartoonish, unsubtle ones that come in cheap products. I also don't want 'old lady' roses - the sweet, powdery ones that smell like grandma's talc. What Wild Rose delivers is an edgy, grown up, juicy and fruity rose scent. It's rose mixed with rosehips and then blasted with some juicy citrus notes on top. The rose is the star but it has a powerful supporting cast of other fragrance notes.
So much for how great it smells - but is it actually any good on your skin? I'm very much a fan of shea butter hand creams and tend to choose ones with high shea levels. This is not such a hand cream but it feels like it should be. Instead the main moisturising components are Soy bean oil, beeswax and sweet almond oil.
RRP is £10 for a 50 ml tube.
I've been travelling for work for two decades now and as you can imagine, the early enthusiasm for pocketing every little bottle of shampoo or shoe cleaning sponge from every hotel room faded a long time ago. These days, there are very few hotel smellies that make it home with me in my suitcase. I'm pretty sure that it's Hilton who have been using Crabtree and Evelyn for some years now and when I see their toiletries, I shamelessly take them home with me. Most others just get ignored.
Crabtree and Evelyn's Citron Honey and Coriander range is delightful. A 250 ml bottle of the 'skin quenching' body lotion would set you back £16 which is more than I'd normally be willing to pay but a lot less than some of the other premium brands.
Bearing in mind that hotels don't want to pick products that are too overtly feminine or masculine in scent, I think Hilton chose well with this scent. Lemon is very unisex, honey perhaps a little more feminine and the peppery notes of Coriander are more classically manly. The combination gives you something quite subtle (you won't smell of this all day long), but upliftingly juicy and fresh. The coriander gives a slightly edgy twist to a combination that might otherwise be a bit too much like something you'd drink when you have a sore throat.
As lotions go, it's quite a light and fast absorbed one - again, ideal for hotels where people tend to have a quick shower before bed (don't want good all over the hotel bedding) or straight before getting dressed in the morning (again, you need things to soak in quickly).
Sadly I don't get to Hilton or Doubletree hotels very often but when I do, this stuff is a winner.
I have a ridiculously large collection of nail polishes for someone who rarely uses them but one of my absolute favourites is an inexpensive bottle of Maybelline Express Finish in a colour called Turquoise Lagoon. Mostly I paint my toenails rather than my fingernails and that's because the effort to paint toes is rewarded with a couple of weeks of chip-free colour compared to a finger-nail job that generally lasts only a day or two at most before chipping. I can explain it simply: I don't open things or type with my toes.
Turquoise Lagoon is a pretty green-blue and it's great for toes. I like colours that are a bit different but not so loud as to interfere with what shoes or other clothes you can wear. I always apply a couple of coats of base coat before moving on to the colour. With some polishes I need three coats of colour but the Maybelline one is good with just the two. I then finish off with a top coat.
Do I find that it dries noticeably quicker than a standard polish? No, not really. I can't say that I have noticed but I take my time over my toes and this hasn't been a problem.
The brush is very normal in length and breadth - not one of the short stubby ones you sometimes find these days. The polish goes on smoothly and without lumping or catching. My only problem is that it's now a couple of years old and the contents of the bottle have started to separate. Considering it's only got a 24 month life after opening, I can forgive that. But I do find a good shake gets the polish back to normal and I'm not yet ready to bin it.
Looking at the current L'Occitane website listings, I have the impression that this product is no longer in their range of products. The one I am reviewing is the 'Lait Corporel peaux seches' or Body lotion for dry skin. I suspect it has been replaced by 'Shea Butter Ultra Rich Body Lotion' which also contains 15% shea. Whether the two are represent just a name change or an actual change of formula is not clear to me.
L'Occitane is a brand I love especially for their use of great natural fragrances and plant extracts and for the high levels of shea butter in many of their products. I have many different products from the Shea range for face, hands and body, but the body lotion is not one of my favourites. Whilst the texture is rich and soaks in quite well without excessive rubbing, the scent is one that I feel rather off-putting. It's a sweet, vanilla scent with a touch of honey. It's not to my taste.
I have several small 75 ml bottles of this because I have access to a L'Occitane outlet store which has a lot of great deals on mixed sets of minis. I find that this bottle - like far too many of the L'Occitane bottles - is very brittle and has a tendency to crack when you're trying to get the product out. This is a really big failing with the 75 to 100 ml L'Occitane bottles and can lead to a lot of waste and even more frustration.
Cost? Around £20 for 250 ml
If you have very dry skin, I suggest to go for the richer Ultra Rich Body Cream which comes in a tub and has 25% shea.
A few months ago I developed a mild case of sensitivity in my upper left side teeth. I didn't think it was serious, but it was a little bit disturbing. I remembered having seen all the TV adverts for Colgate Sensitive Pro-Relief, so I thought I'd give it a go. This was despite me being someone who really dislikes sensitive toothpastes, doesn't generally like the flavours of Colgate products, and is a died-in-the wool Aquafresh user.
I didn't expect wonders but I was really shocked. Mostly to start with I just used it to rub onto my teeth with my finger and massage onto the teeth and gums. It felt like a daft thing to be doing but I was amazed at the difference. I've also used it as a 'normal' toothpaste when I didn't have space in my wash bag for both a toothpaste and the pro-relief product and it was fine - not my favourite, but fine.
There are so many products that claim instant and miraculous relief and most fall a long way short of those claims. This doesn't. It really does deliver on its promises.
I went for my regular scale and polish a couple of months ago and popped my tube in my handbag so I could give the sensitive areas a blast before the dentist started scraping away. I told him what I'd done and he said that not only was it a good idea, but he'd give me a couple of sample tubes to take away. So I felt much better knowing my actions were so well endorsed by my dentist.
I have a 15 ml jar of the Vichy Aqualia Light day cream which claims to hydrate sensitive skin for up to 48 hours. I got it in a beauty box some time in the last year although I now forget exactly where it came from. The size makes it an ideal product for me to pop in my travel washbag and unlike many 'mini' sized sample products, it's not a cheap plastic pot - it's a scaled down version of the original glass jar.
Vichy is of course a name we associate with mineral water so claims about hydration seem to fit with the brand. However, the most surprising things is just how strongly scented this product is. I would normally expect any product for 'sensitive' skin to be unscented or very lightly scented. This is neither. It's not an unpleasant scent but it is quite strong.
The texture of the cream is almost gel-like and when I stick my fingers in the pot, only a little comes out. However this spreads very well and leaves a gentle cooling effect on the skin.
Do I believe the 48 hour hydration claims? No, not at all. I find it very hard to believe anything this light can have a lasting effect. It does contain hyaluronic acid (one of my favourite ingredients) but even so, I wouldn't put this on my skin and not add anything else for 48 hours.
This is referred to as a day cream but it lacks any sun screens so I would propose its light texture and lack of sun protection make it best for use as a night cream in the summer months.
I don't recall exactly where my bottle of COWSHED Wild Cow Invigorating body lotion came from but most likely it was a beauty box or as a gift with purchase on a magazine. I've had several Cowshed items and would have to declare that I am officially 'ambivalent' about the brand. I've had creams that smelt beautiful and creams with scents that practically turned my stomach. This one - the wild cow - is somewhere in the middle.
I have a policy to try not to waste expensive products unless they bring me out in a rash. The less I like the smell, the further from my nose they get applied. The yukkiest end up on my feet and this is one of my 'leg' lotions - not something I want to smell too strongly.
I have a 100 ml bottle and it's not easy to get the stuff out as the lotion is really quite thick and takes a lot of thwacking to get it out. Once out of the bottle, it spreads quite well so you don't need a lot BUT it takes a heck of a lot of rubbing to get it to absorb. For this reason it's not a lotion to apply immediately before you dress and go out as it's rather sticky.
Back to the scent: it contains 'essential oils of lemongrass, ginger and rosemary'. Now I like all of those things individually but put the three together and something goes horribly wrong. The combination is not the spirit enhancing, energising mix I would hope for. It's just a bit icky and smells a bit 'off'.
I would advise before spending significant money on any Cowshed product to make sure you give it a good sniff.
When I was a kid, I spent most weekends with my grandparents. My grandfather was a really keen gardener and LOVED to grow vegetables. He always said the only flowers he'd allow were cauliflowers. He was particularly proud of his potatoes and I remember thinking that potatoes were hard work. There was a lot of digging involved, lots of mounding up the soil and then lots of digging up the veg. It seemed to me like too much work. Consequently when I got an allotment about 20+ years ago, we never grew potatoes.
Times change and now it's really easy to get inexpensive reusable potato bags in which to grow your crop. We planted summer potatoes back in spring and nurtured them through to cropping. For summer potatoes you need to let them grow their first shoots before you put them in the soil - a process called 'chitting' - but for the winter ones we're growing at the moment, there's no chitting involved.
Things to remember when growing in bags?
1. keep topping up the soil as the potato plants come through
2. water them A LOT - if you don't the crop will be small
3. don't throw away the compost after you've got the crop - reuse it in your flower beds.
We did really well in summer with a good few weeks worth of home-grown potatoes to eat. They say nothing beats home-grown and I do think things taste better when you know you made the effort to grow them yourself. We definitely plan to keep on growing potatoes in bags. They may not get as big as ones planted in the garden but growing them that way leaves more space for flowers and fruit.
Once upon a time I considered the Aussie hair care products to be out of my price range but in the past few years, a lot of supermarkets have been doing '3 for £10' offers on Aussie and I tend to grab a few when that happens. Perhaps it also helps that I started using an £8 a bottle shampoo and so the Aussie stuff started to feel like a bargain.
I buy and mostly use the 3 minute miracle colour conditioner in the summer or after holidays in places that are hot and windy and likely to leave my hair looking like a disorganised bird's nest. Ideally I would take it on holiday with me but the strange one-way dispenser cap with no cover over the nozzle makes me nervous that the goop inside would go everywhere if put in a suitcase on a plane.
I've been colouring my hair (or rather my hairdresser has) for about 10 years now but it's coloured to cover a few grays rather than to change the natural colour. For this reason I don't need the same care that someone with a colour that's very different from their natural colour might need.
I use this conditioner in the bath - I don't find a 3 minute one suitable for using in a shower as it means it wastes too much water. I wash my hair then massage a hefty blob of this into my hair, give it a good squidge through the hair and then lie back for anything up to 10 or 15 minutes to let it do its stuff.
I can't claim it's a miracle because even at its worst I can still get a comb through my hair and I don't suffer from knotting and tangling but I do think this product give my hair a bit more shine and helps to keep the colour strong and prevent it going 'a bit red'.
I'm not the greatest fan of the Body Shop although you wouldn't think it if you could see the mass of tubs of body butter in my cupboard. During our recent holiday in India, I started to have really bad problems with sore lips and found I hadn't packed anything in my wash bag that could help. I'd spent two days in the back of a tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw) in a dry, hot city with terrible pollution. The rest of my skin was OK but my lips had become really dry, flaky and sore.
We stopped off at a fancy shopping mall and I went to the beauty section. Sincere women tried to sell me over-priced lip glosses but I knew they were not what I needed. In the distance on the other side of the store, I saw a Body Shop area and I took off with high hopes. I asked the assistant if they had a lip balm for sore lips and she suggested the Hemp one. She got it absolutely right.
I've had several of the hemp products and always been a bit put off by the smell. I don't want to waft through life smelling like I've been smoking cannabis. However I knew that this was the most intense of the lip balms in the Body Shop range and I only slightly flinched at paying nearly £4 for one. True, you can pick up standard lip balms for well under a pound but when you're a long way from home, and you know that this is going to deliver the goods, it's worth every penny - or rupee.
My lips were so dry that when I rubbed this on them it felt like I had sand on my lips. Within 24 hours they were much better, and within 48 they were as good as new.
My lips always react badly to travel and extreme weather and I'm going to stock up on several of these hemp lip balms to make sure I don't get caught out again.
We bought a wood burning stove about 8 years ago and soon came to love it. I think most people will agree that there's something emotionally as well as physically warming about the glow of a wood or coal fire. Ours is in our lounge which is a very large room and we couldn't help thinking that most of the heat was going straight up the chimney. We learned about stove fans from my sister and her partner who have a canal boat.
My sister's partner had been living on the boat even in the depths of winter and claimed that her small wood burner kept the whole place cosy thanks to a stove fan. The fan is self-contained (no power needed) metal contraption which sits on the top of the stove. It has metal wings which heat up as the first gets going and then drive a mechanical fan.
Hot air rises and if you aren't careful, it can all head towards the ceiling and leave cold spots around your feet. This fan blows the warm air directly into the room, taking vertically rising warm air and directing it perpendicular to its natural direction.
Ours does not work as wonderfully as my sister's because the stove stands in an alcove and the flow of air is interupted by a stone mantle which overhangs the top third or so of the fan but it does warm the room better than having no fan at all.
There are many expensive branded stove fans and the best known of these is probably the Ecofan range which typically cost around £100 or more. Our First4spares version cost around £40-50 which I considered a more acceptable price for something that I wasn't completely sure would work. I would struggle to justify paying the extra for an Ecofan when this does all that I need.
Whilst my loyalty to M&S knickers has reduced year after year, there's one part of their lingerie section to which I remain faithful. Whilst it's no longer the case that you could stop any woman on the street and be pretty sure she was wearing an M&S bra, they do still maintain a very high level of loyalty. I would estimate 80-90% of my bras (and 100% of the ones I wear most often) are from M&S.
Within any particular style, their sizing tends to be very consistent which is not something you can say for a lot of stores. Style wise they have an incredibly diverse range of structural approaches to keeping everything where it should be. There are wired, unwired, balconette, sports bras, T-shirt bras, mastectomy bras. They come in sizes from barely there to OMG and the larger stores tend to maintain a great stock range.
My sister's friend had a mastectomy and was recommended to get fitted for bras at M&S. Once upon a time if you turned up at any time, a serious looking 'auntie-type' with a tape measure would quickly put you straight if you were wearing the wrong size, but she had to actually 'play the cancer card' to even get someone to agree to help her. Sad but true.
I doubt many women enjoy bra shopping. I know by now what works and what doesn't and can get into M&S, grab the right styles and get it over and done with quickly. It's rare that I don't find something that works in an M&S. I also advise in the run up to the regular sales to pop in, try a load of bras, find the ones you like and make a note of the sizes, and then when the sale starts, zip in like the SAS on a mission and grab all the discounted ones, knowing that you've already checked them for size ahead of the visit.
When I was a child, M&S sourced most of their clothes from UK factories and the whole country bought their undies from Marks's. My grandparents - never wealthy people by any stretch of the imagination - would never have dreamed of going anywhere else.
The problem was that times changed and principles were shelved. British sourcing reduced year on year and the 'design' side of M&S didn't keep up with cheaper retailers. Now I doubt many people could look in their undies draw and NOT find the odd pair of M&S pants, I equally doubt that many drawers are dominated the way they used to be.
I still have plenty of M&S knickers but I tend to buy specific 'functional' pants (so to speak) rather than every day cotton briefs. For those I go to Tesco and pick up the cheap 5-packs. I have a lot of the M&S 'tummy control' type knickers, as well as old friends of a more standard fit, many of which I've been in a relationship with longer than my husband (and we've been together 17.5 years).
My older knicks out perform the newer ones. They wash up well, don't lose their shape and tend not to fade or get discoloured. Newere ones seem to be of a lesser quality - seems come undone, elastic parts company with fabric and they end up in the bin.
M&S has a very wide variety of shapes and sizes and pretty much anyone will find SOMETHING they fancy from the knicker aisle but sadly neither the quality nor the longevity are as good as they used to be.