Lavender Loveliness

Lavender Loveliness

Lavender is one of the ‘go-to’ plants for a cottage garden style planting scheme but it has so many uses, from culinary to wellbeing so here’s my quick guide on what to buy and how to use it.

Lavendula is the botanical name and they are easy to grow too which makes them ideal for any border. They look fab with roses and other perennials and shrubs.

There are many varieties to choose from – the English lavender is the hardiest – you may see this as Lavandula angustifolia on plant labels. Another popular variety is French lavender, which has cute ‘ears’ on the top of the flower – sometimes known as butterfly lavender. All of them are loved by pollinators.

This plant is happiest in a sunny garden with well-drained, chalky or sandy soil. They don’t tolerate shade, damp or freezing cold as they originate from sunny climates, so they thrive in Mediterranean environments and are suitable for containers, herb and gravel gardens, and balconies.

Lavender come in a range of colours too – from white to pink, mauves and blues, so there is something for everyone’s colour scheme.

French Lavender

How to grow lavender

They can be easily grown from seed (follow seed packet instructions) but if you buy already grown plants, put them out once the soil has started to warm up, usually from April onwards. Don’t ever plant lavender in the winter when young plants are vulnerable to rotting due to cold and wet soils.

You can also grow in containers – use a multipurpose compost or John Innes No2, add in some grit to improve drainage. Keep watered until established but especially during hot and dry periods as containers dry out quickly.

Propagation / cuttings

Another way to grow lavender is by taking cuttings. If you’ve not done this before, it’s a simple process and can be applied to many perennials and deciduous shrubs. Who doesn’t love a free plant?

In horticultural terms it’s called Softwood Cuttings (just in case you want to research it further). Its called softwood as you are cutting the new growth from the plant in early spring when the tips are young and flexible.

Step 1

Collect material (shoots) early in the day when the plant is full of water (turgid) and healthy. Use non-flowering shoots, as they will root more readily. Remove up to 10cm of shoot, cutting off the material neatly above a bud on the parent plant.

Step 2

Most softwood cuttings are nodal – this is just below the leaf joint. This is where there’s a concentration of hormones to stimulate root production.

  • Using a sharp knife (or scissors) trim below a node to make a cutting about 5-10cm long
  • Remove the lower leaves, pinch out the soft tip and dip the base of the cutting in hormone rooting powder (which is available from any garden retailers)
  • In a pot of compost using a dibber (a clean blunt stick), make a hole and insert the base of the cutting with the first pair of leaves just above the level of the compost. Press gently around it to ensure the compost is firm (but not solid).
  • Label the pot and water it from above to settle the compost
  • Cuttings should be placed in good light but not direct, scorching sunlight.
  • Ensure the compost is moist until the cuttings are well-rooted which takes about 6 to 10 weeks
  • Possibly not all cuttings will root, so remove any dead, rotting, dying or diseased material so it doesn’t infect the other cuttings.

These are Salvia cuttings, but it’s the same process.

Salvia cuttings scissors plant pot

salvia plant cuttings

Salvia cuttings in pots

Pruning

To stop your plants getting woody and mis-shapen it’s best to prune back in the late summer once all the flowers have stopped. This can be done using shears or secateurs. Cut back all the spent flowers and trim back this year’s growth, leaving around 2-3cm. Don’t cut back to the woody stems as the plant won’t be able to grow the following year. It’s likely you will need to replace the plant in this case. You can always tidy up the plant in the spring.

Drying lavender

It’s easy to dry and preserve so that the seeds can be used in scented sachets or added to sugar for culinary purposes.

Simply harvest the lavender stems before it’s fully in bloom (this retains the scent and colour). Gather the stems into a bunch (approx. 2cm in diameter). Wrap a rubber band around the stem ends to hold in place and hang the bunch upside down in a cool dry and dark place for 2-4 weeks.

You can also use this process for drying other flowers and herbs.

What goes into creating a Border in a Box product?

Border in a Box garden design worcestershire

What goes into creating a Border in a Box product?

Ever wondered what goes into making a product and how it gets to market? It’s something that never crossed my mind until I started my business a couple of years ago. It has been a steep learning curve and the amount of thought, energy and money that goes into all the ‘behind the scenes’ stuff was a bit of a shock, so let me share the journey and process with you…

Turning the idea into reality

I had a problem with the garden when I moved into my new-build property – I had no clue where to start! I didn’t know what plants would grow well, I didn’t know what plants would look good together and to make matters worse, I had next to no money.

So when I came up with the idea of a kit with a ready-made planting plan that detailed what plant goes where and a shopping list of what to buy, it was a simple idea that I thought would be easy to create and help everyone else in the same boat as me.

However, the initial designs took over six months and thousands of pounds of money to create and here’s why:

  1. Market assessment – had the product been created by another organisation? If so, was I reinventing the wheel or was it a new idea?
  2. Creating the contents – I had to come up with a list of plants for each design then draw all the plans. Everything had to be designed for someone with zero plant knowledge, skill or desire to research. It had to be a simple to follow plan that could be implemented in a day without a huge price tag.
  3. Sourcing suitable packaging that looked appealing and eco-friendly but also budget friendly – this turned out to be my biggest issue.

Once I had this information, I needed to turn my ‘scribbles’ of ideas into a product. This was beyond my skillset, which meant finding someone to work with who had the talent and expertise to help me.

Brand identity

I needed to find an amazing brand ambassador who could take my ideas and create a gardening gift – I wanted something that the recipient would love to receive and feel excited about creating their own garden.

This involved the creation of a logo, icons, fonts, colours and designing the packaging. I had no idea how much time, effort and money would go into this part of the process.

It was imperative to get this right as it would lead onto the creation of the website and product itself, so it’s a key part of the process and needed time to create. I also had to be mindful that more time spent with other designers, the costs increase. So as a sole trader, you have to be careful with your investments as it’s easy to get carried away and run out of cash in the early stages.

I also invested in protecting my intellectual property by trademarking my logo and joining ACID, which is an organisation who helps protect businesses like mine – they have some amazing lawyers who advise how to protect a brand and product. There are plenty of stories how David has taken on Goliath and won. So it’s worth the membership fees.

Cottage garden border in a Box Border in a Box cottage garden

Original packaging on the left replaced with new eco-style packaging on the right

Packaging

Coming from an IT background I had no idea where to start with sourcing my packaging – I relied on internet searches and also my network who recommended various suppliers.

I expected to find ‘off the shelf’ suppliers for all my products to keep costs low, but nothing was suitable, so all the packaging has been designed and created to my standards. This all took a vast amount of time and increased the cost of the products due to being bespoke.

Everything I do, has to be good quality and beautiful. I currently create everything from my kitchen  table, so nothing is mass produced.  All of my suppliers are based in the UK and it’s all printed on FSC card and paper.

I also have to pay for everything up-front so juggling stock and sales is tricky – creating a new product means there is no sales history, so you have to guess how much stock you need to purchase. It’s also likely that it will cost more when buying small quantities.

Another area I hadn’t considered was how to post the gift to ensure the product arrives safely. This is one of my largest costs – at first the boxes were deep and cost £3.45 just in Royal Mail postage, which was without packing material costs or the time and expense it took going to the post office. I learned that it helps to create letterbox friendly product as it can reduce costs.

Marketing and PR

When I first started I went down the traditional route of advertising in magazines and I spent hundreds of pounds per advert but received zero orders. This had to change – I had to find a cost effective way to raise awareness.

Eventually I met a PR guru who provided (paid for) advice on how to get my brand out there. It was worth every penny and it enabled my meagre/non-existent budget to go further. Border in a Box has been featured in many glossy magazines, trade journals, national and local papers.

Border in a Box Country Homes and interiors magazine

Border in a Box featured in Country Homes & Interiors magazine

I write a lot – I never expected that I would write articles, blogs or website content, but it’s a large amount of my day-to-day work. It can be time consuming too – for example the regular newsletter I create will take at least a day or two per month. Choosing photographs and getting them re-sized to fit takes enormous amount of time, but I love doing it. It is something I could outsource, but it keeps me in touch with my clients and potential clients, which is important to me. I also write a monthly gardening article for the Pershore Times.

There are many markets and shows to attend – which can cost anything from £600 upwards and that’s before any thought has gone into the design of the stand, stock and promotion – plus travel and accommodation. That is a lot of sales before breaking even!

Nikki Hollier, Border in a Box, Theo Paphitis, #SBS, Autumn Fair, Nancy Poller

Winning exhibition space at the Autumn Fair, NEC, Birmingham thanks to Theo Paphitis

Selling via marketplaces such as Amazon is a great idea, and depending on which one(s) can cost around 25-30% in commission, plus a joining fee and/or monthly fee.  I must admit, I thought it would be simple to do – but trying to stand out in a crowd is difficult. Anyone can pay to get onto the front page but depending on what page, what day, time etc it can burn a hole in your budget within hours, so it’s imperative to do your homework beforehand.

When working with a market place they all want a particular style of photography to fit with their brand and ethos. This means professional product photography as you need to make the products look fabulous – as the saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression! A half day with a photographer can cost anything from £3-400 upwards. It’s worth the investment but it’s another cost to budget for.

product photography Terry Livesey

Product photography with Terry Livesey

Winning awards is great PR and also a morale boost. Within a few months of launching Border in a Box I won ‘Garden Product of the Year’ with Country Homes & Interiors magazine. Closely followed by #SBS Winner by Theo Paphitis. Then launching on Not On The High Street. A few months later I won the WINN award for innovation with the prize money funding my show garden border at BBC Gardeners’ World Live where I won Platinum and Best Border (and featured on the TV show). I turned this garden into the Wellbeing Border to enable people to recreate a sensory garden at home.

Website

I created my own website at first – I thought it was pretty good considering it was a ‘cheap and cheerful DIY’ company to host my website and I simply added my own text and photos to the template. However, I couldn’t use my font and colours from the branding project, which felt like a waste of money and investment, so I started working with a specific website building company.  It was a huge investment for me, and one I wished I had waited a bit longer for, but I felt it would increase sales but it didn’t. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but it all turned out OK in the end. It ended up costing £thousands which created another hole in my budget.

So when you add-up all of these investments, it is eye-wateringly expensive.  You only have to watch TV programs like Dragons’ Den to see how much money the entrepreneurs invest into their dreams to realise it’s not for the feint-hearted!

So if you have an idea for a product or service, do your homework but follow your heart as you never know where the journey will lead!

 

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white fence with pink roses, alchemilla mollis and salvia caradonna

RHS Malvern Spring Festival 2018

RHS Malvern Spring Festival 2018

Get yourself along to this year’s festival – its theme this year is inspired by the Great Exhibition of 1851 where Malvern water flowed through the magnificent crystal ‘Schweppes Fountain’, the centerpiece of the opening ceremony.

There are some stunning gardens and floral exhibits along with a fabulous food hall and plenty of shopping – so there is something for everyone.

As a garden designer my focus is on the gardens and there are some absolutely beautiful and inspiring gardens to see.

Show Gardens

The ‘Best in Show’ award went to the very talented Ruth Gwynn and Alan Williams for their ‘Perfumers Garden’ – and they also received a Gold Award too – very well deserved as the attention to detail is impressive.

The planting included Iris, Rose, Basil, Citrus and Lavender along with pencil cypress.

Alan Williams, Ruth Gwynn

The Perfumers Garden

The Perfumers Garden

Another favourite is the garden by Graduate Gardeners Ltd with eye-catching brightly coloured plants – including purple alliums, dark cow parsley and grasses which all show up against the dramatic black painted boardwalk and water. They were awarded a Silver-Gilt medal.

Urban Oasis show garden RHS Malvern

wild flower garden

Gold medal garden designer Martyn Wilson created ‘Memories of Service’ supporting the RAF100 Appeal, beautifully planted with blue Camassias, purple Pittosporum and topiary balls with a red white and blue colour scheme to represent the RAF. I found it hard to peer over the top of the hedges to view the garden but it was designed to give an intimate feel to the space.

RAF garden by Martyn Wilson

Another favourite was The Dew Pond by Christian Dowle – I love his style of design as it makes me feel at peace and relaxed. The garden was designed to create a natural setting that attracts wildlife and that is sustainable and productive. There are 5 parts to the garden – an orchard, woodland, front garden, meadow & wall and a dew pond. They were awarded a silver medal.

The Dew Pond, Christian Dowle

purple flower

A Gold Medal and Best Construction was awarded to Peter Dowle of Howle Hill Nursery who created ‘Spirit of the Wood’ which was another show-stopping garden with some magnificent sculptures by Simon Gudgeon. Plants included lots of Japanese maple Acers, which were under-planted with lots of ferns and grasses for lots of texture and interest.

Other show gardens include:

‘From Over the Fence’ by Jonathan Bishop. Bronze Medal

‘Bovis Homes Family Garden’ by Design It Landscapes. Silver Medal

‘Royal Porcelain Works Ltd: The Collectors Garden’ by Big Fish Landscapes. Silver Gilt Medal

‘Greenhance: The Garden in the Egg’ by Jonas Egger. Gold Medal

‘Billy’s Cave’ by Villaggio Verde. Gold Medal

Olivia Kirk, Royal Porcelain Works

Green Living Spaces

I was particularly interested in seeing the ‘Green Living Spaces’ gardens as these have been specifically created to bring ‘big gardening inspiration to small spaces’ and help the #generationrent & first-time buyers green up their lives.

There are 4 gardens in this category:

‘The Salad Deck’ by Andy Bending – Silver Gilt Medal.

‘Outside Number 39’ by elaine Portch – Gold Medal & Best Green Living Spaces Award

‘Grow, dine & relax’ by Anne Keenan – Bronze Medal

‘The Urban Escape’ by Sebastian Conrad – Bronze Medal

Elaine Portch show garden RHS Malvern

balcony garden

I had a lovely conversation with Sebastian about his garden. He is currently studying at Pershore Horticultural College and is so passionate about his plants and exhibiting at RHS Malvern. His garden was created to provide a sense of relaxation by using lush green ferns along with white flowers. However, I loved the vibrant colourful section with corals and bright orange flowers.

The Floral Marquee

The Floral Marquee was as fabulous as ever. Master Grower this year is Avon Bulbs, who are a multi gold medal winning nursery specialising in rare and unusual bulbs. Particular interest is the 6 varieties of Camassia including the ‘Stellar Pink’ variety.

Avon Bulbs

As usual local Fibrex Nurseries were exhibiting and won 2 Gold Medals for their Pelargoniums and Ferns & Ivies. They are also celebrating their 60 year anniversary in June! I love visiting their nursery in Pebworth and I’m using their ‘Lady Plymouth’ variety in my show garden border at Gardeners’ World Live at the NEC in June. Not only does it smell amazing, but the leaves are variegated with grey/cream colours. Beautiful! They are hosting their Plant Party on the weekend of 16/17th June and have lots of talks and workshops for you to attend – more information click here: https://www.fibrex.co.uk/blogs/news/the-big-show however, this is the same weekend as Gardeners’ World Live, so plan your weekend wisely!!!

I was also impressed by Andy’s Air Plants and Scamp’s Quality Daffodils. Also Pershore based Hayloft Plants had a lovely display where you can buy unusual plants. How could you fail to miss the dazzling lilies by Hart’s Nursery – the size of the blooms was spectacular and the smell was divine! There are so many plants to choose from that there’s no way to pick ‘favourites’ but the Auriculars are so pretty.

air plants

daffodil

Auricular

It’s a great place to chat with the growers too and you may even bump into a celebrity gardener or two! Here’s the lovely Carol Klein with award winning Surreal Succulents.

Carol Klein, Gardeners World, Surreal Succulents

The Great Pavilion of Art and Flowers

Even if you’re not into floristry, this is the pavilion you MUST visit as it’s full of spectacular floral artistry. When you walk in the first thing you see is the Morgan Car decorated with outstanding designed flowers. The photographs don’t do it justice as it really is a fantastic piece of art.

Morgan Cars RHS Malvern, Floral art

You can’t fail to be inspired by floral artist Jonathan Moseley who is giving daily talks and demonstrations over the weekend. I’m sure you’ll learn lots of tips and tricks on how to decorate your home with fabulous British grown cut flowers.

Jonathan Moseley florist

School Gardens

I loved the school gardens – hopefully it will inspire the next generation to develop their love of gardens, horticulture and being outside. Here are three gardens which I thought were wonderful as I loved their attention to detail!

Three Counties Home Educators – The Beatrix Potter Garden

Tudor Grange Academy, Worcester – Suspended Innovation

Greenfields Primary School, Kettering – A Very British Tea Party

Beatrix Potter Garden

The Festival Theatre

I got to listen to Chris Beardshaw present his show garden project which he is currently building the Morgan Stanley garden for the NSPCC at the forthcoming RHS Chelsea Flower Show. It was inspiring to hear how an experienced garden designer approaches the project and comes up with an amazing garden to showcase the work of the NSPCC. I can’t wait to see it.

Chris Beardshaw garden designer

 

I also bumped into Joe Swift & Adam Frost – there will be plenty of celebrity gardeners for you to meet and talk to at the event – check the Festival Theatre agenda.

Jpe Swift, Adam Frost, Gardeners World

There is really so much to do and see at the show that I’ve not even had chance to talk about here, such as the Grow Zone, Food Hall and the Master Craftsmen. It’s a wonderful show to gain ideas, inspiration and ‘how to’ advice – so my top tip is to make sure you have plenty of time and make sure you wear comfy shoes!

The show is open 10th to the 13th May, https://www.rhsmalvern.co.uk/buy-tickets/


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Calendula

The day I met Alan Titchmarsh changed my life

Alan Titchmarsh RHS Malvern

 

I remember it vividly, it was the 4th of May 2016 and I was watering my show garden at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival. Alan Titchmarsh was walking hurriedly past me with James Alexander-Sinclair, a fellow TV garden designer and (as I had found out the day before) one of the show garden judges. (I had rather embarrassed myself when I had asked James if he was there filming for TV – he looked horrified – and I realised he was one of the RHS judges and was going to be judging my garden! Oops, as we’re not allowed to talk with the judges until after the awards!). However, all was well with Alan (not one of the judges!) and we exchanged cheeky pleasantries and Alan said he would be back the next day.

So, early the following morning, Alan returned to see my garden and I was completely tongue-tied. There were so many people gathered around, nevertheless he came and sat on my fabulous seating (supplied by Sui Generis) and had a chat. I’ve no idea what he said as I was completely in shock! Fortunately, Alan is just like he is on tv – so down to earth and very easy to talk to. He spotted the wire, life-size sheep sculptures which part of my garden and we talked about these. He seemed to love them as much as I did – in fact, they were featured on Gardeners’ World on TV that week as part of their coverage of the show.

Alan Titchmarsh Border in a Box

Then off Alan went, followed by an entourage of on-lookers and RHS people and I carried on with my day.

Early afternoon came and I was summoned to the RHS office – I was terrified, thinking the worst, and had palpitations wondering what was going to happen. I sat there waiting and then got called to the main auditorium – I was still completely baffled as to what was going on. I could see Alan and James were on stage entertaining the audience with their funny stories.

And then the best thing happened – I got called on stage and presented with the ‘Peoples’ Choice Award’ for my show garden. I was in shock – my garden had been voted for by the public – that was the icing on the cake. I had only completed my garden design course a few months before and here I was getting an award for my first show garden. WOW!

Alan Titchmarsh Nikki Hollier

The show ended a few days later and I was contacted by the sculptor of the sheep. He told me Alan had been in touch and loved the sheep so much he wanted to buy some for his garden. To cut a long story short, Alan purchased the sheep from my show garden which meant I had the opportunity to deliver them to his home and see his own garden. I was so excited to have a look around his garden.

wire sheep sculpture

As you can imagine, Alan’s garden is absolutely stunning – I loved it. It was full of my favourite plants such as Delphiniums and gorgeous pale pink rambling roses.

Alan made me a cuppa, which was surreal, but it gave me the opportunity to talk about my business idea, Border in a Box, and I showed him my prototype. We discussed everything, from the concept (which he loved) to the contents of the box, styling, packaging, pricing etc. It was amazing that an expert like Alan gave his valuable time to a start-up business and offered such insight and support. I am so grateful and thankful.

Our meeting gave me a lot to think about and a few weeks later I met with a branding expert at a PR event I was at. I discussed my ideas and that was the starting point for turning my concept of ‘garden design in a box’, to help garden novices create a beautiful garden without the designer price tag, into reality and for it to become a physical product. The following six months was a complete whirlwind of busy-ness, creating new content for the box, new branding, and new packaging, which enabled me to launch the first 5 Border in a Box products in March 2017, on Amazon and on my website. I was so proud of the whole ‘journey’ and none of it would have happened without that initial meeting with Alan.

Meeting Alan and his time, insight, and encouragement came at just the right time and spurred me on to turn my fledgling idea into a business and a whole new life – I was never to return to my old career of IT. I’m so grateful for the time Alan gave me.

Alan Titchmarsh, Nikki Hollier

And if you don’t already know it, here is Alan’s impressive biography.

Alan Titchmarsh biography:

Alan Titchmarsh was born and brought up on the edge of Ilkley Moor. He left school at fifteen and became an apprentice gardener in the local nursery, following this with full-time training at horticultural college and then at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Alan was the main presenter of Gardeners’ World and the hugely popular, Ground Force. He has also presented How To Be A Gardener, British Isles – A Natural History, The Great British Village Show, The Nature of Britain. His own daytime show on ITV, The Alan Titchmarsh Show, featured a combination of music, the arts and conversation, and ran for eight years. He also presents his own radio show on Classic FM on Saturday mornings. This year we saw Alan’s new show for ITV, Masterpiece, as well as the sixth series of Love Your Garden, ITV.

Alan writes regularly in BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine and Country Life, is gardening correspondent of The Daily Express and The Sunday Express, and also writes in The Sunday Telegraph. Alan has written more than 50 gardening books, a Christmas anthology, nine novels, four volumes of memoirs, and a miscellany celebrating England and Englishness.

In 1997, Alan was named ‘Yorkshire Man of the Year’. He was appointed MBE in the 2000 New Year Honours List, and a Deputy Lieutenant of the County of Hampshire in 2001, when he was also immortalised by Madame Tussaud’s. In 2004, he received the Victoria Medal of Honour, the highest accolade in the British gardening world and, in 2009, he was made a Vice-President of the Royal Horticultural Society. He is patron or president of over 50 charities.

Alan lives in Hampshire, and the Isle of Wight, with his wife in an old farmhouse with a four-acre garden.

Here’s the video of my show garden build which was called Hidden Gems of Worcestershire.

 

Further reading:

I’m creating a show garden border at Gardeners’ World Live in June 2018 – the border design will be available to purchase in June and is called ‘Wellbeing’, which makes a great gift too. Alan will be at Gardeners’ World on Friday 15th June.

https://borderinabox.com/designing-show-garden-border-gardeners-world-live-2018/

If you would like to win a pair of tickets to Gardeners’ World Live 2018, simply sign up to my Garden Lovers Club:


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Theo Paphitis the shopkeeper & the #SBS annual event 2018

Theo Paphitis SBS 2018

The #SBS club has 2,256 winners as of Friday 23rd February 2018. But what is #SBS? It stands for Small Business Sunday and was started by Theo Paphitis in October 2010 when he was feeling a bit bored after a Sunday lunch.

Theo was constantly being ‘pitched to’ and he wanted to help small businesses so it made sense to set up a time and place to do that. So, it’s on Sunday evenings 5-7.30pm. The winners are chosen each Monday and Theo sends a tweet to his 506k followers at 8pm to announce the six winners that week. Twitter goes crazy. There have been 329,000 applications since it started in 2010.

Theo Paphitis

Theo says, “Small Business Sunday was born so that people have a specific time slot to tweet and can pitch their ‘sell’ directly to me.”

 

 

You probably know Theo from his time on the TV programme, Dragons’ Den, but he calls himself a shopkeeper. He is Chairman of Ryman Stationery, Boux Avenue Lingerie, Robert Dyas, and London Graphic Centre.

There is an annual event where Theo invites all the winners to meet, network, and have the opportunity to have their photo taken with him.

This year’s event has just taken place at the ICC in Birmingham.  I wouldn’t have missed it for anything as it is a great opportunity to meet like-minded business owners and book 1:1s with Theo’s team from his various businesses.

For me, meeting the buyers from Robert Dyas was invaluable, especially as one specialised in gardening. Perfect. I was able to show them Border in a Box, talk about my ideas on various aspects of the business as well as receive feedback from a commercial perspective.  The first comment was, ‘I was expecting wall paper’! The other buyer said it looked like a tin of stationery. You might be thinking I would be put off by these comments. Actually I found them insightful, especially coming from a male perspective. We talked about the contents, marketing, where I should focus – all things that I’m currently working on. So my brain was buzzing after my 10 minute discussion as we covered a lot of ground (no pun intended).

Speed-dating

As I walked down the stairs, I was talking through the conversation with my business-buddy and as we stood at the bottom, we were approached by one of the team who hurried us into joining the business speed-dating sessions. We were completely taken by surprise and felt very awkward being plonked in front of a total stranger.  However, as luck would have it, I met the Head of E-Commerce for Rymans.  Although I felt totally unprepared for our conversation, it went well and it was another insightful chat. This time focused on selling on Amazon.  I left with great tips on how to enhance my pages on Amazon – brilliant!

My next speed-dating session was with the Marketing Manager for Robert Dyas.  I couldn’t believe my luck! As soon as I sat down, I showed her my tins and she looked up my website as I chatted about what BiaB was all about.  She loved my branding and talked about how attractive the packaging was and that her mum would love it too.  Another brilliant conversation and more ideas on how to market my product.

So, within the first hour of arriving at #SBS, I had many fabulous ideas and new plans on how to improve various aspects of my business. I couldn’t believe how helpful and engaging these people were.

Insights and perspectives

Kypros Kyprianou, Ryman CEO, opened the event and introduced the sponsors on stage – iLaw, Hewlett-Packard, Robert Dyas, 123 Reg, DHL, Square, and Western Union.

Next, the man himself. Theo was mesmerising and talked through the results from their survey of the winners:

  • 54{3b96ccedb6380d96f8e66177cf66408304ba867d3fa3be683953eff9523069eb} are sole traders
  • 82{3b96ccedb6380d96f8e66177cf66408304ba867d3fa3be683953eff9523069eb} are feeling optimistic about the future
  • 42{3b96ccedb6380d96f8e66177cf66408304ba867d3fa3be683953eff9523069eb} worry about cashflow.

Theo then opened the floor to questions and after a few people had spoken he suddenly said, “Shut the f**k up! I don’t want to hear negative comments about being small. A small business will win my business as I know I will get extra special service from them.” That told us! To be fair, we needed a kick up the backside and to be reminded how amazing small businesses are and that we can offer something in addition to the big businesses we compete with.

Theo Paphitis Stephen Cheliotis

Next on stage was Stephen Cheliotis, the CEO of Superbrands. In a nutshell, Superbrands commissions independent research to identify the UK’s leading brands http://www.superbrands.uk.com/

It was a thought-provoking presentation.  One of the slides was a quote from Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon:

Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room”

It certainly made me think about Border in a Box differently.  Theo said that no matter what size of business you are, you can compete with larger corporate brands by being professional and by treating customers well. He went on to say that:

  • small businesses have the flexibility to change with the times
  • they are disrupters and
  • we weald more power than we think we do.

The lunch break arrived which gave more opportunities to network, speed-date with the brand and marketing experts, chat with the sponsors, and also to play games to win some great prizes.

I also went to a presentation by Stuart Myers – what an inspiration.  He was born in 1982 without arms. He talked about his life growing up and overcoming the tasks we all take for granted such as learning to drive.  He described himself as just an ordinary guy, married with 2 kids, a house, a car, and a career. https://www.schoolspeakers.co.uk/speaker-listings/stuart-myers

Theo Paphitis John Roberts AO.comIn the afternoon was a ‘fireside chat’ with AO.com’s John Roberts. I had no expectations of this session but, wow, what a story. It all started over a drink on Christmas Eve in 1999 when he bet a friend £1 that he could change the world of white goods retail. In 2014 they completed an IPO valued at £1.2bn. He talked through everything including a funny story about recording background noise at a friends’ call centre, so whenever he got a call in his office he could replay it to make the caller think it was a much larger operation than it was. It was only 3 guys around a table in the early days.  He also told us about sponsoring TV show ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ last year. The aim was to raise brand awareness and obviously increase sales.  He said it was one of the worst deals ever as he spent his annual marketing budget in 6 weeks and saw no increase in sales.  For me, that was a real eye-opener as it just shows no matter how much experience you have, what your budget is, you can still fall off a cliff.

John’s philosophy is all about customers – and he treats them like he would treat his Nan.  He gives his staff complete authority to resolve the customers’ issues (within reason!) and he personally reads and signs the letters that are sent out to customers. He believes customer service is what sets AO apart.

John also gave us advice to be ‘fanatically anal’ about what works and what doesn’t work. Look at all the online information click by click.

Other nuggets included:

  • Do your research – if you’re starting a new service/product, ask people for a review in exchange for a product sample
  • Have 3 or 4 routes to market & pay for adverts
  • Influencer marketing – find out who’s hot in your industry and get them to review your products & services
  • Cash is King

Theo Paphitis John Roberts AO.com

Sadly, this was the last presentation of the day, however, it was also one of the highlights as I met Theo there and gave him a Border in a Box and had my photo taken with him.

So, if you’ve been thinking about tweeting Theo – do it! It was a brilliant day out and it’s so full of energy, which you can’t fail to absorb.  The downside is my to-do list is longer, however, it has spurred me on to do more and I know Border in a Box will be even better. Watch this space!

(I hope Theo loves his Border in a Box…

official photos available shortly)

Theo Paphitis #SBS Border in a Box

Theo Paphitis SBS Border in a Box award

 


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garden border with pink tulips, forget me nots and daisy

Mother’s Day Gift Guide 2018

Mothering Sunday gift guide

This year Mothering Sunday is on the 11th of March and it is a wonderful day to remind our Mums how much we love them and a great opportunity to spoil them rotten.  But what do you buy? I’m here to help.  I’ve got some really lovely suggestions from my chums to make life a bit easier for you and you can choose from the comfort of your armchair too!

Border in a Box Butterflies & Bees1. Easy to follow garden design kits

The garden design kits by Border in a Box are perfect for anyone new to gardening as each design can help anyone create a pretty garden – and without the designer price tag.  There’s a choice of 7 designs to choose from, Sunny, Shady, Clay, Evergreen, Contemporary, Cottage, and Butterflies & Bees. Each kit contains:

  • a garden border template that measures 3m x1m but can be easily adapted to other sizes
  • a mood board containing a photo of each plant
  • a plant list which details information about each plant in the design
  • two packets of seeds
  • plus top-tips to help you personalise your garden.

An easy way to create a beautiful garden in less than a day. Each kit costs only £24.99 including free delivery and is available from www.borderinabox.com/shop. If you would like a free gift card, add the card in the online shop and use this code at the checkout – MDCARD.

Dianthus2. The meaning of flowers

According to tradition, the official symbol of Mothering Sunday is Dianthus which came about from the tears Mary shed as she followed her son to Calvary and it stands for maternal undying love. These beauties cost from £1.50 each and are available from Hayloft Plants from April onwards.  Definitely worth the wait as they smell amazing! http://www.hayloft-plants.co.uk/Search.aspx?searchbox=dianthus

 

Dahlia Moms Special3. Summer flowering bulbs – Dinner Plate Dahlia ‘Mom’s Special’

How gorgeous is this flower and so very appropriate for this occasion. It will flower from July to November and makes a lovely cut flower too. One bulb costs £6.26 and is available from Gardens 2 You – https://www.gardens2you.co.uk/product/dinner-plate-dahlia-moms-special-summer-flowering-bulbs-choose-quantity/

Boxwild hedgehog

4. Ultimate Hedgehog Gift Box

The gardener’s best friend – hedgehogs love slugs, so here’s a super cute and practical gift which supports our prickly chums and keeps slugs at bay in the process. Each kit includes a metal ornament, special nutritional food, a bowl, and a scoop. Each kit costs £40 and is available from Boxwild who make gifts for bird and nature lovers. https://www.boxwild.com/products/ultimate-hedgehog-gift-box

 

laura jayne fisk5. Luxurious country inspired art

A fabulous British made fine bone china diffuser – available in 3 designs which all feature the illustrations of talented artist Laura Jayne Fisk. You can fill your home with the gorgeous scent of Black Plum and Rhubarb. Once finished you can either choose to refill or string up the diffuser as a stunning bauble.  Each diffuser costs £30 each and is available from www.laurajaynefisk.co.uk

 

 

 

Georgie St Clair6. Personalised flower print especially for Mum

This personalised print by Georgie St Clair would make a lovely gift for Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Galantines Day or as a special birthday present. Add your own special message underneath the lovely illustration art print to make a truly unique gift. The print costs £20 (excluding the frame) and is available from https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/576253756/personalised-mothers-day-print-mothers

 

 

Sam Morris Cow Art7. “You’re my sunshine”

We all know that special someone who brightens our day, well, this design deserved the happiest and brightest of colours to capture that sunshine! This is a brand new gert-lush collection of artworks called “Mini Moo-ers” (said with a cheeky West Country twang).  The picture is presented in a deep boxed antique-white frame & mount and it arrives with you ready to hang. This picture costs £25 and is available from https://www.samantha-morris.com/collections/mini-moo-ers

 

 

Eweniverse yarn basket pin8. Puntastic sheep gifts & funny illustrations

These funny and cute sheep items are ‘puntastic’ and there’s a great choice of mugs, coasters, pictures and these lovely enamel pins. Ideal if your mum is into knitting or crocheting. Available from Eweniverse https://www.etsy.com/shop/eweniverse and cost £6.50.

 

 

 

Beeutiful body candle9. A natural beauty!

I love these gorgeous handmade natural beauty products from Beeutiful. Made from beeswax and honey produced from Beeutiful’s own bees in Hampshire. This indulgent body candle costs £18 and is made from soy, beeswax, and coconut oil, combined with Beeutiful’s unique blend of essential oils. It not only provides a long-lasting scent, it’s wonderfully moisturising too. There are three fragrances to choose from – Warm Orange & Ginger, Neroli & Vanilla, and Rose Spice.  Available from www.beeutiful.co.uk

 

 

Little Soap Company10. Organic pure rose gift pack

My favourite soap ever! This gorgeous pamper pack by the Little Soap Company is as lovely as it sounds – gorgeous smelling soaps and bubble baths to make your skin feel super soft  and all packaged in a lovely gift box. This gift costs £45 and is available from https://www.littlesoapcompany.co.uk/

 

 

 

Mums bakes cakes11. Home-made cake??? No time to make one?

No worries with this fantastic service. You type the recipient’s postcode into the website to find a local baker, choose the type of cake you would like to be delivered, include a message and voila a yummy home-made cake is delivered fresh to their door, anywhere in the UK.  Who doesn’t love a bit of cake whilst catching up with a cuppa? Prices start at £15 for 6 cupcakes delivered and are available from Mums Bake Cakes https://www.mumsbakecakes.co.uk/

 

 

Three Little Pigs workshop12. A day out in the country?

How about learning a new skill and treat your Mum (and yourself) to a lovely day out? Three Little Pigs run fabulous workshops in a pretty Worcestershire village setting with a fun and informal environment. Workshops include Folk Art Painting, Soap Making, Willow Sculpture, Book Binding, and even Candle Making. If you can’t decide which workshop to choose, gift vouchers are also available. For more details visit www.threelittlepigs.eu.  Each workshop costs from £65 per person including a yummy lunch.

 

Tigley Textiles hare13. Learn to embroider

Julie Brand teaches 6 styles of contemporary embroidery workshops from her inspiring garden studio in a stunning village setting in Worcestershire.  Each day-long course teaches you how to embroider either by hand or machine, and is suitable for a beginner or a more experienced sewer. A great creative experience. Bookings and vouchers are available from their website www.tigleytextiles.co.uk.

 

 

 

14. Everyone loves a bit of pampering

Cecily’s is a gorgeous beauty salon in Malvern Wells, which is in an area of outstanding natural beauty in Worcestershire, offers a calming and cosy ambiance whilst you are given the ultimate beauty experience.  It’s perfect for some well-deserved ‘me time’ using luxurious products which are found in prestigious spa’s around the world. I’m feeling relaxed just thinking about it! Contact Cecily’s directly via their website http://cecilys.co.uk/

 

 

 

As you can see there is a gift suitable for everyone’s taste and budget. You can do activities together, provide a gift for Mum, or pamper yourself. If you can’t make the day in person, there are lots of presents you can get delivered too.

Whatever you decide to do, enjoy spoiling your Mum on Mothering Sunday.

 

End of year review 2017 – the good, the bad, & the ugly!

starting & running a business

 

When I worked for a large company I always had an end of year appraisal to review the past year and see what was good, not so good, and create the plans and targets for the following year.  I always found them painful as they were so judgemental, but now I’m my own boss, I enjoy the process of looking back, reviewing what happened, the lessons learned and how to improve/grow for the coming year. It is so important to do this.

The idea for my business started several years ago when I moved into a new build property and had a garden that was turfed and surrounded by a wooden fence. It was soulless, boring, and uninspiring yet I had zero funds to do anything interesting with it. There must be thousands of people in the same boat so the seed was sown to create a business to solve the problem.  I retrained as a garden designer, left my corporate job, and started my business. So now I create planting plans for anyone who wants to create a pretty garden but doesn’t have the time, knowledge, or resources to do it themselves.

In 2017, I launched Border in a Box in March via Amazon Launchpad, with five ready-made garden designs, each in their own attractive tin box – perfect for any gift such as house warming, birthday, wedding, retirement etc.

Border in a Box gift tins

First steps

The process to get to this point was incredible and so rewarding.  I worked with a professional branding expert who designed the packaging. I spent many months creating the contents, working on planting plans, layouts, and choosing photos. I had no idea how long it would take to do each of these tasks. It was imperative to outsource those I wasn’t experienced in to create the space for those I was good at and to ensure the product was of a professional standard. It was overwhelming (and wonderful) when I saw my ideas turning into a physical product.

I was accepted by Amazon Launchpad (their program for start-ups like me). I thought it would be amazing and the orders would roll in. I had no concept of SEO at this point. Trying to understand how Amazon’s algorithms work and how to get the products and my business noticed are still baffling to me.  Needless to say, being lumped in with 116,000 products under the search term ‘gardening gifts’ it is tricky to stand out and I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to pay Amazon to get my product onto the first page of search results.

At the time when I was launching, I got contacted by Dragons’ Den and asked to apply to the show – (see separate blog about this https://borderinabox.com/dragons-den-audition/).  This opportunity was out of the blue and added to the pressure of my product launch.

Building the brand

The next step was to get Border in a Box (BiaB) noticed in a crowded market place.  It was unique so people didn’t know how to search for it, or find the solution to their problem. This meant a whole lot of learning as I knew nothing about how to match search terms and questions to Border in a Box products and how best to market the business and use PR to get it noticed.

I quickly learned that traditional advertising is costly, especially when you have a minimal budget.  Trying to work out the Return on Investment (ROI) before parting with my cash was impossible.  These aren’t mistakes either; just part of the business journey.

So, I got started building my brand.

  • I write a monthly gardening article for a local newspaper, The Pershore Times, http://www.pershoretimes.co.uk/.
  • I joined a PR group by Janet Murray – whose insights and training have been invaluable to me. I’ve been featured in glossy magazines such as Period Living, Healthy, Modern Gardens, Country Homes & Interiors, Good Housekeeping, and Red and also in local & regional newspapers such as Birmingham Post, Worcester News, and the Evesham Journal.
  • I’ve done countless interviews and contributed to articles for Enterprise Nation, Flymo, and ACID + many more.
  • I regularly post on social media – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.
  • I write a monthly newsletter.
  • I’ve also had sales tables at networking events.

Again, this all takes time and effort creating regular content.

To increase my business profile I applied for ‘Garden Product of the Year’ by Country Homes & Interiors magazine and won! The prize included a feature in their magazine plus mentoring by the owner of Garden Trading, which has been fantastic.

Country Homes & Interiors magazine

I also was shortlisted for Entrepreneur of the Year by NatWest which was hard to believe so early in my product’s life.  I met some very inspiring people such as Leanne Bonner-Cook, who has just been awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours which is incredible and I’m over the moon for her.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing. I got chatting with one of the judges who initially was very helpful, but the conversation quickly started to get very uncomfortable with his ‘interrogation’ style of conversation. He asked me why I called my business BiaB and I told him the story. He hated all of it and couldn’t understand why or what I was doing. He became very animated and quite intimidating which was a shock as we were at a social gathering.  I replied that Alan Titchmarsh loves BiaB (which is true and is a story for another day!). This stopped him in his tracks for a millisecond. I had no idea who this person was and assumed he must have had an amazing business that he created from scratch and had sold it for millions. I read his biography the next day and there was no mention that he had ever started his own business, but interestingly it says, “And if you don’t know the answer don’t try and fluff him through something vague, he’ll tear you to pieces!”.  No kidding! It was the worst experience so far – I seriously considered giving up at that point. However, I knew I had a great product which many people love so onwards and upwards.

Great British Entrepreneur Awards

Extending the range

At the same time, I launched 2 more designs (making 7 in total), created a new website, became a Not On The High Street partner, and sold via the gift shop at St Peters Garden Centre and the Walled Garden at Croome.

I also had a garden design office at a local garden centre every weekend which gave me the opportunity to talk to people about their gardens and find out what they liked and disliked. I loved helping them create borders and containers with colour, texture, and plants they would never have considered before which they really valued, but didn’t pay for the help as they felt it was all ‘part of the service’ by the garden centre. It was a loss-leader but I learned so much.

Here’s my design studio that I created from an unused garden building at the garden centre – some elbow grease and paint makes a massive difference:-

Design centre at St Peters Garden Centre

interior garden design studio at St Peters Garden Centre

 

Lessons learned

It has been an incredible, amazing, awesome year so here are my top tips for anyone starting out.

  1. Time – I found that everything takes longer than I expected. My advice is to allow triple the amount of time to complete a task as something always happens mid-way through!
  2. Outsource – you can’t do everything yourself to a professional standard, so buy in expertise and outsource the tasks you’re not as good at as it will pay dividends in the long run.
  3. Training – you will realise there are things you don’t like doing or are rubbish at so enrol on training to learn how to do them and improve your skills. Never stop learning. I’ve signed up for a content marketing course to help develop my blogging skills.
  4. Money – you can never have enough! There are always items to spend your money on which you hadn’t anticipated at the outset and cashflow is critical so also think about when you need to spend.
  5. Criticism – you need to develop a skin as thick as a rhino. It happens, so learn how to pick yourself up and take whatever lessons you can and stay true to your vision. Also ensure you build a network of like-minded people you can talk to.
  6. Opportunities – say yes to everything! You never know what opportunities it will create further down the line
  7. Give back. I love helping people and I became a mentor for Viewvo https://www.viewvo.com/ to help others who want to leave corporate life and change careers.
  8. Balance – there is good and bad in every situation – it’s all about balance. Sometimes you need to look deeper to find the good in some situations. It will all pass eventually.
  9. Development – I visit trade shows and garden shows to develop ideas and network.
  10. Be prepared for your business taking over your life – you will think about your business 24/7. This means some friends will naturally fall by the wayside but you will also meet and make some new and extraordinary new friends and acquaintances.
  11. Take care of yourself – burnout is easy when you’re trying to keep all the plates spinning

What’s in store for 2018…

More of the same really but I’ve got plans to develop my product range further.  I’ll be off to meet Theo Paphitis in February as he hosts an annual event for all the winners of his program to help small businesses. Most importantly, I will carry on helping people create their own beautiful borders from Border in a Box. Why not join them – https://borderinabox.com/shop/

Theo Paphitis small business Sunday

Why I’m glad I failed on Dragons’ Den

Dragons' Den

 

It all started when I was tremendously busy finalising the launch of Border in a Box on Amazon when an email arrived asking me to apply for Dragons Den. I looked at the senders’ details and thought that doesn’t look right, and a quick search on the internet came up with nothing. Gut feel was right, it was spam. In any case, why or how did they find a little unknown business like mine?

A few days later, they contacted me again and seemed quite put out that I had ignored them, after all isn’t it every entrepreneurs hope to find the Golden Ticket to the big time? I then realised the enquiry was genuine, so I replied with a humble ‘hello’ and ‘sorry’!

They asked me to complete an initial application form, which they said would only take 15 minutes to do. Easy! However, after working for yourself you realise that any job takes a million times longer than you ever expect it to. The application took all day.

I emailed it back, never expecting to hear from them again. I wasn’t looking for investment, but I would have jumped at the opportunity to gain mentoring from a Dragon, especially a retailer, as I was fumbling my way through it all, learning as I went.

I was completely thrown when they rang back and invited me to an audition. I was in a complete daze and was sworn to secrecy, so I couldn’t tell anyone about this amazing opportunity.

The following few days turned into a complete whirlwind of activity due to the short timescales for filming the next series.

I was asked to bring an up-to-date business plan and prepare my pitch as if I was in front of the Dragons. Simple! I literally had five days to complete everything and prepare myself for the event. I was so far out of my comfort zone, it was scary. I hate having my photo taken, so to be filmed was off the Richter scale in terms of anxiety. But it was equally mega exciting as the possible outcome of this opportunity could be life changing!

The day of the audition quickly arrived. I was feeling sick to my stomach with excitement and nerves. I got on the train and re- read my business plan and pitch notes over and over, with nothing really going in, my mind was a blur.

I arrived at the BBC – the moment of truth arrived and the show researcher showed me into a stark, windowless office. I expected to go over my business plan and have a general conversation about everything, but no, there was a brief introduction to what was going to happen next and then I was in front of the camera presenting my pitch. I got tongue-tied a few times, but my presentation was completed quickly.

I felt more at ease once it was ‘in the can’ and then they said they wanted to know more about me as a person and wanted to film it too. Quick quick think of something interesting to tell them… errrm, errrm, my brain went dead. I couldn’t think of anything and then after what felt like an amazingly long time I opened my mouth and said “I live with my Mum and Dad and their cat…” Oh, my word, I’m cringing whilst reliving the moment. How embarrassing was that – it’s probably the dullest thing to say. I just wanted to crawl into a hole and stay there. The worst thing was I didn’t elaborate and say it was only until I buy my new home.

I didn’t make it onto the show. All that hard work, sleepless nights, and stress was over in one fell swoop. However, I did find out how they found me, and it was due to spotting a photo of me and Alan Titchmarsh on my website – they were researching horticultural products which meant the internet search was working fine.

However, hindsight is a great thing and I’m so glad I fluffed the audition and here’s why:

  • Going into depth on the business plan made me realise that I knew more than I gave myself credit for. Creating a product from an idea and turning it into a physical thing takes a massive investment of energy, passion and belief and I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved in a short space of time.
  • Although it was a big fat NO, it certainly wasn’t the end but a bump in the road, and I knew there would be other opportunities around the corner, after all Alan Titchmarsh thought it was a great idea and gave me some tips on how to improve the product.
  • There were no guarantees of success by working with a Dragon – and I’ve gone on to receive an award of ‘Garden Product’ of the year by Country Homes & Interiors magazine. Part of the prize is mentoring by the owner of Garden Trading, who is amazing and he has already added value to help me move my business forward without taking a percentage of my company.
  • My moto is Rome wasn’t built in a day! There are plenty of entrepreneurs who have had doors slammed in their face but have gone onto greater things – it’s about tenacity, perseverance and timing. Hearing a ‘no’ just makes me want to prove them all wrong.

I was given these stats: In the last series there were 24 entrepreneurs who accepted offers of investment in the Den and a combined total of over £1.5 million invested by the Dragons. Additionally, plenty more achieved success after taking on board the advice they received from the Dragons.

There were no stats about the ones who were rejected and what they did next but I’m sure some of them were successful – prime example is Trunki and It’s just an entertaining TV program at the end of the day.

 

Follow me on Facebook & Twitter – @borderinabox

Border in a Box is a series of garden border templates to help anyone new to gardening or short on time the information needed to produce a beautiful border without the designer price tag.

They are available from my on-line shop, www.borderinabox.com

Border in a Box garden design tins

17 fabulous gift ideas for gardeners & nature lovers

According to Andy Williams who sang “It’s the most wonderful time of the year, there’ll be much mistltoeing, and hearts will be glowing, when love ones are near…. But what do you buy for your favourite gardeners and nature lovers?  Fear not, I’ve brought all my horticultural friends together to create this rather handy gift guide to help you choose some fabulous gifts for the special people in your life.

To make it really simple, I’ve included links to their website so you can buy online, so feel free to have a mooch around their shops from the comfort of your armchair to see what beautiful items they have to offer. I’ve included gifts from across a broad spectrum such as garden design kits, homewares, workshops, books, bird care and plants – something for everyone and with purse friendly prices.

1. Butterflies & Bees garden design template kit

Butterflies & bees butterflies & bees

Border in a Box garden design template kits – there’s a choice of 7 designs to choose from, but this version has been created specifically with plants that attract Butterflies & Bees. Each kit contains a garden border template that measures 3m x1m but can be easily adapted. A mood board and a plant list which details information about each plant in the design.  Also included are two packets of seeds plus top-tips to help you personalise your garden. Each kit costs £24.99 inc P&P and is available from www.borderinabox.com/shop. It makes a great gift for non-green fingered people but who still want a pretty garden.

2. Designer tulips

Queen of the night tulips

I love these as they’re such an eye-catching collection of tulip bulbs that can be used in the garden border or containers. With a difference in shapes, sizes and heights, this collection is perfectly paired with light coloured tulips and looks great in large drifts. Included are 10 of each design: ‘Black Parrot’, ‘Paul Scherer’, ‘Queen of Night’ and ‘Uncle Tom’ and costs £19.99.  If you would like a free bulb list so you can create year round colour in your garden, send an email to [email protected] and I’ll send you the chart by return.

These bulbs are available to buy from https://www.gardens2you.co.uk/product/rich-dark-tulip-collection-40-bulbs/ and can be planted up until Christmas/New Year or before the ground is frozen.

If you prefer a bit of indoor gardening then these bulbs are very glamorous!

3. Amazing Amaryllis

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a traditional Amaryllis – here’s a stunning gift from Hayloft Plants, in either white or red, which has impressive trumpet flowers with either a white, red or gold bauble shaped pots – they cost £30 + PP for 2 plant baubles www.hayloft-plants.co.uk

 

 

4. Christmas poo

alpaca fertiliser

What? Yes, you read that right!

Every plant needs nourishment and there’s nothing better than using alpaca fertiliser as a general, slow-release feed. Lou’s Poo is a range of British smallholder-made natural alpaca fertilisers. Good for indoor or outdoor plants including pots & containers. It’s clean and smells great. This fertiliser is used by commercial growers, flower farmers and gardeners alike. They have a limited edition Christmas Gift bag available now which makes a hilarious gift for any gardener – 20 feeds for £9.99 and you can see the handsome herd here www.thearchersatthelarches.com.

Alpacas have soft luxurious fleeces which Lou creates hypoallergenic and organic bedding from – this is certainly on my list as it sounds so comfy!

Talking of our fury friends how about a bit of pampering for them with these lovely items

5. Presents for pets

 

Little Beast Little Soap Company

This ‘Little Beast’ pack costs £26.99 and is available from www.littlesoapcompany.co.uk – all the products are made in the Cotswolds and are not only organic, but are free from all sorts of parabans, so are perfect for our pets and their hoomans! You can also buy Little Soap Company products from supermarkets and they’re well loved in our household, especially the Rose & Geranium bars of soap.

6. Pet bowl

Who wants a plastic pet bowl when you can have a super stylish dish made by the talented Laura Jayne Fisk in Suffolk – I love Laura’s designs and this one is really cute! It costs £23 and is available from www.laurajaynefisk.co.uk

pet bowl laura jayne fisk

Plus, if you want to be super cute and match your own mug to drink your morning cuppa out of, you can with these adorable items which start at £10.

mugs & jugs by Laura Jayne Fisk

7. Classic cake tin

As everyone knows, elevenses are an important part of the day and you always need cake to go with a cuppa, so for a touch of luxury how about this classic cake tin from Garden Trading in charcoal steel –www.gardentrading.co.uk and costs £22, remember to fill it with the recipients favourites before handing over! I could just eat that cake right now!

8. Stylish home-wares

What a great way to welcome guests to your home, a lovely star designed door mat and it’s made of hard-wearing coir so it will withstand Santa and his herd of reindeer! Available in two sizes from www.gardentrading.co.uk and costs from £12 for the small version.

star doormat Garden Trading

9. Works of art

If you’re partial to a botanical print then you’ll love these from the talented Georgie St Clair, which cost from £60 for a set of three, however, my favourite are her botanical and floral letters, although I do admire everything Georgie creates! www.georgiestclair.com

botanical prints by Georgie St Clair

10. Animal art

I adore Sam’s cows – this is Mrs Mac and is a limited edition print and costs from £195, but if you prefer a fun cow, Sam paints those too and sells originals, prints, gifts and pet portraits. https://www.samantha-morris.com/collections. I’ve got a few of her cowsters which always make me smile!

samantha morris cow art

sam morris at work

11. Luxury bird food

It’s so important to take care of our wildlife and one way you can help our feathered friends is to subscribe to Boxwild, who create luxury bird food – this particular gift box contains: Boxwild Blend, Songbird Blend and All Season’s Blend with a bird feeder along with a fruit feeder and a seed scoop. This makes the ideal gift for a bird lover and costs £28 inc P&P. https://www.boxwild.com/products/bird-feeder-gift-box

Box Wild bird food gift set

If you’re unsure what to buy for the person who has everything, you could buy a day out at a craft workshop, and if you’re not sure which one they would prefer then you could always get a gift voucher, so the recipient could choose and you could have a fab day out together.  Here’s a few options for you…

12. Basket weaving, soap making, plus many more craft workshops

 

basket making Three Little Pigs workshop

Basket weaving, candle & soap making, stained glass, silver rings and bangle making are just some of the many workshops to choose from at Three Little Pigs http://www.threelittlepigs.eu/ in Worcestershire and cost from £65 including lunch, which is great value for money and in a really lovely relaxed setting too. You can also learn how to do needle-felting, festive cake decorating and folk art painting before Christmas, which sounds a really relaxing and fun day out.

13. Learn to embroider

Julie Brand from Tigley Textiles is a textile artist also from Worcestershire. She offers creative textile workshops from her beautiful garden studio using both machine and hand embroidery in contemporary ways. Bookings and vouchers can be purchased from her website, and are a great idea if you crave a bit of “me” time.  A day course costs £75 including materials – don’t worry if you’re a complete novice as you can hire a sewing machine for the day, so there’s no stopping you! www.tigleytextiles.co.uk

 

Tigley Textiles dragonfly

14. The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2018

A beautiful book has just been launched called The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2018, written by Lia Leendertz and is currently on sale at £3.99 on Amazon, but retails at £9.99. Although I don’t know the author, it’s a lovely little book and a must read for any nature lover. It covers months and seasons via moon-gazing, foraging, feast days, seasonal eating, meteor-spotting and gardening. It’s only small in size, so it makes a great stocking filler. www.amazon.co.uk

almanac book 2018

15. Join the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS)

For an annual fee of £59 you can join the RHS www.rhs.org.uk/ – membership includes free entry to the four RHS Gardens, where they can bring a family guest for free each time they visit. They’ll also enjoy free entry to 200 RHS Partner Gardens. Plus, priority booking and access to quieter Members’ Days at RHS Shows(RHS Chelsea Flower Show included), hundreds of free and discounted events at RHS Gardens, a monthly subscription to The Garden magazine and personalised advice from the friendly RHS Gardening Advice team.

Your gift will arrive in a deluxe pack, including six luxury postcards, two packets of seeds, vouchers for a free RHS tote bag and £5 to spend at RHS Gardens. Here’s a photo of my first show garden which I created last year at RHS Malvern – I won a Silver Medal and also the People’s Choice Award.

 

Show garden by Nikki Hollier

16. Cheeky calendar boys

If you like to support a charity and give to a good cause, then Perennial would really welcome your patronage.  They assist horticulturists when times get tough.  They’ve created a naked gardeners calendar which you can buy from their shop and costs £10 www.perennial.org.uk – you can also buy gifts, cards and wrapping paper too along with all sorts of useful gardening items.

Perennial calendar 2018

17. Personal garden design

If your loved one has been thinking of getting their garden sorted, then why not treat them to a bespoke garden design – you could divide the cost between family & friends which means everyone can contribute to a thoughtful gift. It costs £195 for a 10 meter border and is available from www.borderinabox.com .  So if you have no clue about gardening but want a pretty garden or have no desire to research what’s needed and you find garden centres overwhelming with too many plants to choose from, this personal design service will help you get your dream garden and will save you money in the long run by having the right plant in the right place.

personal garden border design

 

I hope I’ve inspired and encouraged you to buy gifts from my amazing network of friends – I know they will all be very grateful for your patronage and I hope you have a fabulous festive season!

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Nikki HollierFounder of Border in a Box
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