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The Chelsea Flower Shower is with out a doubt the greatest horticultural show on earth. I was lucky enough to book my tickets before they sold out in record time this year, apparently due to the 'Titchmarsh' effect (Alan Titchmarsh returned to design a garden at Chelsea 30 years after his last Chelsea garden, it also marked his 50 years in horticulture). This year wasn't just a year for grand returns however, this year was marked out by the number of young designers exhibiting at Chelsea for the first time and for some with spectacular results.

I'm still mulling over all I saw at Chelsea this year, it was a feast for the senses and for me some reflection is required before I determine which aspects truly stand out and consequently how I will add them to my garden in the future. You see although Chelsea is a marvelous spectacle, it is also a mirage. It exists fleetingly and then vanishes so of course there is a certain level of artifice involved. What works beautifully at Chelsea viewed from a walkway may not have practical application in a real garden. So today I am bringing you a peek, a flash of beauty, the best blooms from Chelsea Flower Show 2014.

The scent of a rose is intoxicating and evocative. For me it brings back memories of childhood and summer. The David Austen stand in the Great Pavilion was deeply scented, so much so that my friend and I quite lost ourselves in there... in fact the experience was so heady that if I were a smoker I would have needed a cigarette afterwards. Instead giddy from the sweet aroma I decided to buy three bareroot roses (to be delivered in November) and one rose from the stand 'Jacqueline du Pré'. Jacqueline is now nestled in my border between peonies, a box ball and a sambuca I'm training as a small standard tree. The open cup of petals reveal wonderfully coloured pink stamen that hold aloft pollen for bees.

These poppies were among dozens that caught my eye at Chelsea this year. I don't think they can rivaled for impact in a border when coupled with their airy delicate nature. The petals of this variety looked like crinkled paper and would be stunning in a cut flower arrangement.
Papaver 'Ladybird'
Papaver 'Ladybird'

These are possibly the most photographed lupins on the planet, such was their impact in the Great Pavilion that the crowd was over five people deep just to take a picture. The sheer array of colour was mesmirising. Lupins can be grown as annuals or herbaceous perennials and I must have had my finger on the horticultural pulse of the nation back in February when I chose to raise both types from seed in my greenhouse this year. I can't wait to see how they do in the borders.

Iris is a welcome favourite at Chelsea, I love this naturalistic planting idea which is perfect for a damp corner of the garden.

 Gardens filled with lavender are a joy to behold, there are colours to suit every planting scheme and they are an invaluable source of food for bees and other pollinating insects. I love to offset the vibrant hues by planting it with roses and black lily turf (ophiopogon nigrescens).
Downderry Nursery Stand in the Great Pavilion

How did The Chelsea Flower Show inspire you this year?
Lavender image courtesy of The RHS all other images ©Bella & Bear 2014.

The Greatest Flower Show on Earth - The Blooms

The Chelsea Flower Shower is with out a doubt the greatest horticultural show on earth. I was lucky enough to book my tickets before t...
Saturday, 31 May 2014

Wearing top to toe Zara
Trousers (seem to be sold out online)
Shoes by Carvela (old, these are beautiful in blue)
Bag (old, I adore this one)
Watch by Bell & Ross
Sunglasses by Marc by Marc Jacobs

Yeah, I'm gonna be rocking a lot of florals and stripes this season it just feels like the right thing to do. 

This outfit is pretty much top-to-toe Zara. Wearing one brand all over isn't something I would do ordinarily but Zara being the A-mazing brand that they are they have taken all the effort out of the co-ordination struggle. The bag and shoes though... that's all me.

This is also an extremely wearable way for anyone without a perfect washboard tummy to work the cropped top look. I'll admit I pulled the 'eeeeiiiisssshhhh' face when I saw cropped tanks, bralets and midriff aplenty swanning down the runways but as with most extreme trends there is always a work around.  

Here the high waist and oodles of material (not to mention the print) draw the eye firmly away from the midsection; that high waist elongates the legs while the volume of material (that increases in width towards the foot) has the effect of making your hips look more slender. Bonus! The boxy shape of the cropped top is a counter balance to all the material in the trousers. The stripes pull the eye up, again away from the midsection. Coordinating the colours adds coherence, it's a nod to the matchy-matchy trend as well as big slap in the face to the same and well, it's just easy on the eye. I can't wait to wear this to the Chelsea flower show next week!

In Blues

Friday, 16 May 2014
Easter was especially great for two reasons this year. The first was because my birthday fell on Easter Sunday so I had a whole extra day of the weekend to celebrate, which I used to great effect by staying in bed to get over the celebrations. The second was because my kids shared their chocolate... ok so I ate it while they were sleeping (like you don't). 

The thing is now, four weeks after the event I am still craving sweet things like a zombie craves brains. The craving hits me at 3pm, I shoo it away with a fortifying cup of tea and some toast with honey. It starts up again around 4pm when Bella & Bear are deep into snack time, I'm hovering by the fridge pandering to their whims when I find myself suckered into a Crunch Corner style yoghurt (the kind with a chocolate side) or at least two Tunnocks Teacakes (I am a whore for those things. The shiny wrapper... the mallow, the biscuit layer... ahhhhhhh!! Yes I want to put you in my mouth and so forth). An early supper thankfully handles those unsavoury desires and kills off the craving until 9pm after which I make routine trips to the kitchen to open cupboards, the freezer, drawers (the kids lunch boxes) searching for something ANYTHING to keep the sugar cravings at bay. I think you'll agree that this has gotten a little out of control. So in an attempt to make better choices I've bought a super little smoothie maker, the Breville Blend Active.

So far we are getting on well. I love that I don't have to transfer the smoothie into another bottle once it's blended, you just change the blades for a lid and off you go, so easy. It comes with some helpful recipe ideas too which I'm sure I will try out in the near future. For now I am sticking with simple blended fruit and milk; yes I added a teaspoon (or two) of sugar to this one but these are early days. I need to learn to crawl before I can walk. I'll be blending curly kale and cucumber by the end of June... hahahahahahahaha!!! No I don't believe me either. The chocolate ice-cream shakes I made for the kids today looked so darn good. Damn it.


Simple Strawberry Shake

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Is there anything to rival fresh flowers in a beautiful vase? Their ability to brighten a room is unrivaled and the scent is both reviving and relaxing. At this time of year I bring in lilacs and tulips from the garden and from the florist I bring home peonies and stocks. I love the way they soften interior space. My sister brought me these pink roses and champagne for my birthday because she knows they make me smile.

Rooms filled with flowers

Friday, 9 May 2014

Tee by CAbi (old, love this one)
Trousers by Zara
Heels by ASOS
Bag by Mulberry
Necklace by Cos
Sunglasses by RayBan
Watch by Bell & Ross
All other jewelry is old

It's impossible to ignore the sports lux trend this season and why would you want to? Everywhere I turn there are gorgeous printed peg-leg trousers as well as bomber and varsity jackets just waiting to be tried on. I've been having a bit of an online fling with Iro's divine jackets recently but I've yet to take the plunge.

These trousers are a recent find from Zara, I picked them up as I was pottering around in the Chelsea store. Everything about them screamed 'Buy Me' from the dark navy colour to the contrasting stripe down the leg and the black cuffed ankles, just so elegant. I'd already been to the fitting rooms with an armful of clothes and was heading to the cashier desk when I spotted them out of the corner of my eye. I didn't even need to try them on such was my force of feeling. They were coming home with me and that as the say was that.

I love the weightless quality of the fabric that engenders in me a sense of liberty as I walk down the street, so unlike wearing denim which by contrast can leave you feeling almost held in, restricted. Being so simple to style is a huge plus too and makes the school run fash-off an easy win although I usually opt for trainers instead of heels. And therein lies the beauty of sports lux, a true day-to-night look with a simple change of footwear. So if you're thinking about trying it out and to paraphrase an iconic sportswear brand... Just do it.

Sports Lux

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Quick Avocado Prawn Salad with a Lime & Dill Mustard Dressing

Do you remember when prawn cocktail was the height of sophistication? Well I do and so in keeping with the re-imagining of my favourite childhood recipes for the Maille Flavours Culinary Challenge I have decided to revive this classic salad for a modern audience. This salad is so quick and simple to make yet it's packed with fresh zingy flavour making it a perfect light lunch or as an accompanying salad to a BBQ for a bit of surf and turf this summer, or even as starter course for a dinner party. Whenever you choose to serve it the result will be mouthwateringly good.

You will need:
One pack of raw jumbo prawns
3 tbsp of sour cream
3 tsp light sweet honey (to taste)
Chopped romaine heart lettuce (approx five+ leaves)
Cubed cucumber (approx two inches)
Half an avocado (stoned & cubed)
Sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Chop the lettuce, dice the cucumber and place in a salad bowl. Dice the avocado and set aside.

In a separate bowl combine the Maille aneth et citron vert mustard, sour cream and honey. Mix until it is a smooth, slightly runny paste. I like my salad dressing sweet (especially with prawns) but if you prefer more of a bite try with just one teaspoon of honey to start with and add more as necessary to suit your taste. Pour the dressing over the salad in the bowl and mix gently. The salad should be lightly coated with the dressing, not dripping.

Heat some salted butter in a frying pan, when it's melted add the jumbo prawns and cook turning them often. On a reasonably high heat it should take about 5 to 7 minutes to cook the prawns. Once cooked pop them into a bowl of cold water (this prevents the prawns from cooking further once they are removed from the heat and ensures they will be plump and succulent in the salad rather than overcooked and rubbery). After two minutes drain the prawns and set aside.

On a serving plate place a single serving of the dressed salad onto the middle of the plate. Top this with pieces of the avocado and the cooked prawns. Drizzle a teaspoon of the remaining dressing over the top, season with a pinch of sea salt and cracked black pepper. Serve immediately, ideally with a very cold glass of crisp Chablis.

I had some dressing left over which I used up later that day spread onto a slice of toasted sourdough bread topped with fresh white crab meat and thin slices of avocado... yummy.

Maille Flavour Challenge #2

Monday, 5 May 2014
In April I was very excited and fortunate to be invited to try La Maison Maille's new flavour range for a culinary challenge for food bloggers. I waited with anticipation for my ingredients to arrive and once they did the fun began in earnest. I've been experimenting with ideas and ingredients to create new recipes which I hope you will love, I certainly enjoyed eating the results.

Toasted Sourdough Steak Sandwich with Mini Gherkin Salsa

I've always loved gherkins. As a child I used to beg my friends for their gherkin slice when they came in burger buns. What I love about the these new mini gherkins from Maille is their delicate, sweet flavour and the crunch as I bite through them one-by-one, they are nothing like the slightly flacid vegetable I craved back then, still I wanted to recreate that experience but re-imagined for an adult palate.

You will need:
Two slices of sourdough bread for toasting
One beef frying steak
One large heritage style beef tomato
Vine ripened sweet cherry tomatoes (one vine of eight)
Root ginger (roughly two tbsp grated)
Five spring onions (chopped)
Two slices of Monterey Jack cheese
A pinch of sea salt and black pepper

Prepare the salsa in advance. Roughly chop the tomatoes, spring onions, 3/4 of the gherkins and combine them on a chopping board. Add the grated ginger to taste and season with a pinch of sea salt and cracked black pepper. You can add a squeeze of fresh lemon but too much will drown the delicate flavour of the gherkins and ginger, I left it out. Set aside for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavours to come out.

Heat a little oil in a frying pan over a high heat. When the oil is hot add the steak to the pan, it should sizzle when it hits the pan. I like my steak rare so I cooked it for two minutes on each side. I added sea salt and cracked black pepper corns as it cooked. If you prefer your steak more well done just increase the cooking time to suit your preference. Once cooked transfer the steak to a chopping board to rest for five minutes, put the sliced cheese on to the steak to allow it to melt. You can add the cheese to the steak one minute before you remove it from the heat if you like your cheese thoroughly melted.

Toast the sourdough. Place the rested steak and cheese onto one slice of toasted sourdough, top with a generous helping of gherkin salsa before sandwiching with the remaining sourdough. Slice into two and enjoy while warm. The juice from the steak and salsa drips into the bread softening it as you eat. Save the remaining salsa to enjoy with fresh tortilla chips and an ice cold beer when you put your feet up that evening.

Maille Flavour Challenge #1

Sunday, 4 May 2014
British summertime is as fickle as it is fleeting but the one constant that everyone can enjoy is a traditional cream tea. Served everywhere from Claridge's to Cornwall it is quintessentially British, often accompanied with cucumber sandwiches (crust cut off naturally), colourful little patisseries and delicate bone china teacups. It's a feast for the senses and incredibly easy to repeat at home.

I saw this recipe on the cover of the May edition of 'Waitrose Kitchen'. I am really impressed with this magazine all the recipes I've tried have turned out well and it is beautifully edited. It's also free to My Waitrose members which is a boon.

I've never made dough before, not bread, not pizza, not even cheese straws and certainly not scones but I am about to get quite creative in my kitchen as it couldn't be simpler plus the aroma is heavenly.

You will need:
225g self-raising flour (plus a little extra for dusting)
2tbsp of castor sugar
1/2tsp of salt
55g of unsalted butter (chilled & cubed)
1 lemon, zest & 1tbsp of juice
2tbsp of chopped stem ginger
125ml of whole milk (plus a little extra for brushing)
A smallish cookie cutter

Preheat the oven to 200ºC
Lightly dust a baking tray with flour

In a large bowl combine the self-raising flour, castor sugar and salt. Add the cubed butter and work it into the flour mix, squeezing it between your fingers until it reaches a breadcrumb like consistency. The mix will be quite dry and not at all like a crumble mix. Stir in the lemon zest and then make a well in the centre.

Combine the chopped stem ginger, lemon juice and milk in a jug and pour this slowly into the well. Roughly bring the liquid and flour mix together, using a knife helps, knead very briefly to ensure a smooth consistency and to push some of the air out of the dough.

Dust a little flour over a cutting surface then pat out the dough to about 2cm thick; using the cookie cutter cut out your scones and place them onto the prepared baking tray. Re-roll any trimmings and re-cut until all the dough is used. Brush the surface of the uncooked scones with milk and bake for 18 to 20 minutes until they are golden.

Allow the scones to cool on a wire rack. Once cool you should be able to pull the scones apart rather than cut them (it's the sign of a good scone). Serve with lashings of clotted cream, raspberry jam or lemon curd if you prefer and hot Earl Grey tea. I had mine with strawberry and champagne jam, delicious!

Lemon & stem ginger scones

Friday, 2 May 2014
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