c May 2018 | Garden, Tea, Cakes, (Books) and Me

Book Review Little Fires Everywhere, The Unfortunates and more about The Book Matchmaker

Book Review Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It has been a while since I've read a contemporary genre book, I was tempted when offered to review a book from The Bookmatchmaker. I was excited to be selected as an Instagram Ambassador for them, such a different way of selecting a new or preloved book to read. You do not know which book will arrive when you order but select by genre or 4 key words - it is a great way to discover a different author, I've used them to also buy book gifts for friends, that way I get a surprise too. Quote 'bookmatchrep10' for 10% off any order. 
Little Fires Everywhere literally begins at the end, the opening chapter reveals a family home destroyed by fire and the Richardson family watching on. With all fingers pointing to Mia and Pearl a mother and daughter who are the tenants of the Richardson family living nearby.

As the story unravels Elena Richardson has the perfect home and family, well to do, well educated and living in an ordered community in America. Elena likes to give back to those worse off in society and rents out a nearby homes in a nice part of town to someone deserving, such as Mia and Pearl Warren who have newly arrived in town.

But there lives soon become entwined, Pearl becomes kindred spirits with the Richardson youngest son Moody, and settles into creating herself a place with what she sees as a perfect family. Pearl admires Moody's older sister Lexie who is out going and popular at school, distracted by Moody's athletic older brother Trip and amazed at the talented musician of sister Izzy. Just the kind of family Pearl has dreamed of belonging to, instead of moving from town to town living the most basic of lifestyles, whilst her mother a photographic artist uses each more to search for new inspiration.

This becomes far more complicated when Mia becomes the Richardson's cleaner, and invades what Pearl sees as her escapism. Izzy Richardson sees Mia as an interesting and warm mother figure that understands her youthful eccentricities, something Elena Richardson her own mother does not grasp.

Relationships between the main characters evolve and become entwined, lies are told, secrets are kept. But when dear family friends of the Richardson's adopt a Chinese baby, and the birth mother takes them to court to get her baby back. Sides are chosen and more secrets unravel.

During a school visit to the city museum a photo is discover taken by a well known female photographer of Mia Warren holding a baby. Elena Richardson decides it is time she found out more about her new tenants - where are they from, where is Pearl's father.

Once I had cracked this book I did not want to put it down, I was desperate to know who set the fire, why did they set the fire. As the story develops the focus shifts between the main family groups, the Richardson's, the Warrens, the McCullough's who have adopted May Ling and Bebe, May Ling's mother.

It certainly made me look deeper into the different lifestyles people choose to live or how they react when circumstances are chosen for them. When the judge has to decided who May Ling should live with who is he, or we, to say that because people choose to live a certain lifestyle it is any more right or wrong from any one else - just different.

Whilst reading this book it had a feel to it of the the american tv show Big Little Lies, which incidentally is due a second series. I can certainly see there is a story line for a sequel to this book.

The UnfortunatesThe Unfortunates by Laurie Graham
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Poppy the lead character is such a ridiculously annoying person. The story follows the fortunes of a family in New York from the late 1890’s through to the 1970’s. So many major events in history touch their lives, as they travel and adventure to and fro America and Europe.
An easy book to read but with no depth to most of the story, it flits quickly from one character and point in time to the next. It covers the lives of four generations of the same family, but mostly focused on Poppy Minkel, and all in just 365 pages. So no surprise there was no substance to each element of the story. I’m surprised I bothered to read until the end, mostly I just wanted to give Poppy a piece of my mind whilst I truntered on to myself turning over the pages.
It’s only when I had nearly finished this book that I realised I had previously read the Duchess from Nowhere by the same author, whom I also found the main character Ducky to be ridiculously annoying. Not an author I would want to read again.

Essential Poems For The Way We Live NowEssential Poems For The Way We Live Now by Daisy Goodwin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I rarely sit and read poetry from a book, usually a read individual poems I discover in other pieces of literature such as newspapers, magazines or social media. Or maybe when out visiting museums or historical places of interest. This book collates a wide variety of poetry both old and new. None of which are composed by Daisy Goodwin who has collated the poems for this book and has her name emblazoned all over the cover. Which certainly worked on me! Browsing my local library for a 'learners' book of poetry it was her name that drew me to it, one to borrow not one to buy in my opinion.

I enjoyed many of the poems and it has clearly drawn to my attention to which poets are my favourites Thomas Hardy, Sir John Betjeman and Wendy Cope. Though I certainly have no wish to read anymore of Philip Larkin!
Book Reviews Garden Tea Cakes and Me

What's next on my bookshelf
I am currently reading Mary Higgins Clark's All By Myself Alone, but I have found myself distracted with garden.
I have ordered the next book in the Frances Doherty series at my local library. I still have a number of Philippa Gregory books on my bookshelf waiting to be read. Do let me know if you have any book recommendations. To find out more about the books I am currently reading or vote on which book I should read next on my Instagram account Garden Tea Cakes and Me.

Follow me on Goodreads to see how I am progresses with this years Reading Challenge.

Read my previous reviews including:- 
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Jack Reachers 61 Hours
the thriller I See You
or Jesse Burton's The Muse
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A Visit to Malvern Spring Show

I had high expectations for my first visit to the Malvern Spring Show, and I was not disappointed. A number of my online gardening circle had sung high praise of this garden show including it's magnificent setting.  I went to the show with my sister who had the pleasure of chauffeuring me and my wheelchair about. We arrived around 10am, the weather was perfect the sun was out with the odd breeze to ensure we were not too warm. 
Spirit of the Woods Show Garden Malvern
The Spirit of the Woods garden
My Show Highlights 
  • Show Gardens - It was a pleasure browsing around the show gardens. My favourite was the Perfumer's Garden, which incidentally worn the Best Show Garden. The Spirit of the Woods garden had a real calming feel about it, with few people around us we could almost feel a soothing sensation wash over us. It is a great opportunity to talk to the designer and most gardens were handing out plant lists, which comes in very handy as the gardens are a great source of inspiration.
  • The smaller Green Living Spaces garden offered some practical  and imaginative planting ideas. Having thought about it since my visit I think these were of more interest to me.
Gardeners World Adam Frost preparing to film in one of the Green Living Spaces gardens
Alpine Plant envy at the D'arcy & Everest stand in the Floral Marquee
  • I thought there a good choice of plant stalls, though unfortunately we did not manage to find one with a good selection of grasses.  But having spoken to a few people at the show I was told more than once that the show was much smaller, and there were less choice of plant stalls. Obviously as a first time visitor I didn't notice.
  • There were numerous traders selling greenhouses, they were selling a lifestyle not just a greenhouse. They were beautiful, set up and styled to lure you in.  If I was in the market to replace my greenhouse, I would certainly wait to visit a garden show - so much choice in one location. 
  • Both my sister and I were very impressed with the Guild of Crafts area, the choice and quality of products made was exceptional and a real pleasure to look around, and one I would recommend.
  • We found time to enjoy the Green Kitchen talk at the Grow & Cook Theatre with Alys Fowlers, Martin Fish and Mark Diacono. Though we forgot Gardeners Question Time at the Festival Theatre and only managed to catch some of it, we were so engrossed with looking at plants!
Huge Terrariums where located around the show
The Perfumer's Garden

An inviting open gate
  • I was particularly keen to see The Work of Heart Garden, a knitted and crocheted garden. Created by Clare Young whose late husband was cared for by Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice. Crafters from all over the world including myself have crocheted and knitted a staggering 50,000 hearts to help raise money for the hospice. Well done to Clare for creating this amazing garden. 
Work of Heart Knitted Garden Malvern Show
Work of Heart Garden

Work of Heart Knitted Garden Malvern Show
Knitted walls and wonderful flowers

Work of Heart Knitted Garden Malvern Show
Work of Heart Garden
  • The busiest spot at the show was the Floral marquee. This was no surprise it must be the most popular area of the show, so many flowers perfectly presented plus the opportunity to buy. We certainly did, tempted by the display and choice of alpine plants at the D'arcy & Everest stand. We spent just under £20, unlike the person next to us who wanted reserve one of the £500 display gardens!  Also within the Floral marquee you will find the RHS Gardening Advice stand, we waited very briefly to talk to an expert about our poorly Laburnum and the  ants in my vegetable raised beds.  
  • There was plenty of space to move around The Great Pavilion of Art and Flowers, and some impressive flower displays along with floral arrangement demonstrations.
  • It is worth buying a show guide (£5). Have a look around the show gardens or the floral marquee then grab a drink and plan your day.  It contains all the listings for the various theatres, I found I was constantly referring to the show map throughout the day. 

Monty Don was not at the show but this greenhouse looks staged to appear like he had popped out and left his jacket behind.

More show information
You are sure to spot a gardening or foodie celebrity during the day; I was convinced that Carol Klein was stalking me at one point! 

You will find a good choice of food and refreshments (although you can bring your own), the only queue I saw was mid morning for coffee, but move on around a corner and you will find another vendor with no queue. Again we easily found seats. The vintage tea corner in the Arts and Crafts area served nice tea and coffee and plenty of space between tables but very disappointing cakes. Next to the Festival Theatre near the show gardens you will find a number of street food stalls including tempura, gourmet burgers, churros and pasta. The Avon Hall is also another good location to find a selection food stalls.

It's all about Thursday
Thursday is the day to go, it was not overcrowded and a pleasure to move around, no queues for looking at the show gardens, food or toilets. The floral marquee was very busy but I had expected that it is one of the highlights of the day. Though Thursday is the more expensive day, it was very enjoyable and if I go again it will certainly be a Thursday. 

The Malvern Hills made for a phenomenal back drop to not just the show gardens but the whole event. Giving it a very different feel to the event, relaxed and surrounded by nature.  Many years ago I visited RHS Hampton Court, I remember nothing about it except the serious overcrowding, being a shorty it was no fun. Gardeners World Live, Birmingham is only 40 minutes away from where I live, but you are either surrounded by buildings or inside them. Next on my garden show wish list is The Shrewsbury Flower Show, a very local show for me as it is located in my home county. 
Planting ideas
Happy collection of alpine plants now on my greenhouse bench

A water lily 'Nymphaea Pygmaea Alba' and miniature bullrush 'Typha minima' plant purchased from Dorset Water Lily Company have already been added into the water feature, which is still an on going project.

Accessibility Tips

As the show is based at the permanent site of the 3 counties show grounds there are a large number of permanent paths and buildings which makes the use of a wheelchair or scooter easy. The more rigid temporary paths were also very good.
Inside many of the marquees are also worn down grass and were reasonably good. 
Sturdy temporary paths at the show made moving around with a wheelchair easy.
Moving around the main show ground field was very uneven, but as the weather had been dry was not muddy or unnavigable. As I am not confined to a wheelchair I chose to walk this area, as sitting in the wheelchair was very bumpy on my spine. I suspect if you where in a scooter this would not have been as bad as my manual wheelchair.

I am going to give a big shout out for the guys at the Event Mobility stand that hire out scooters and wheelchairs for the event. Half way through the show my wheelchair encountered a problem with one the brakes jamming, and they very kindly repaired it for me. 

The disabled car park was situated at the west entrance, which brings you in at the Show Gardens. Once parked the initial ground is very uneven, fortunately we were just a few cars away from the more even  pathway leading towards the entrance. It may be worth mentioning to a marshall if you need to park towards the end of the row. 

There are plenty of toilets situated around within the show ground and at the car park, including disabled access toilets. These are clearly marked on the show map. 

My eye was caught by the floating hedge in this garden
Travel Tips
Approaching Malvern from the north west we had to make our way around Worcester, with major road works and heavy traffic this part of our journey alone took us an hour. Leaving the show at 5pm we encountered additional traffic as the first horse racing of the year at Worcester race course had just finished. Expect delays and embrace them! We ensured a number of sweet treats purchased at the show to reward ourselves during delays on the journey home.

I could go on and on about just how much I enjoyed the Malvern Spring Show, so much space to more around, a wide variety of gardens and food demonstrations to see, plenty of retail stalls too. But don't just listen to me, start planning your own visit.

Do you have any garden show recommendations? 

Explore Keukenhof Tulips Gardens with my visitors guide including tips and getting the most out of a visit and accessibility advice.
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Visit to Keukenhof Tulip Gardens in Holland


The world renowned Tulips gardens at Keukenhof, Holland have long been on my wish list of gardens to visit. I had not really planned to visit them so soon, but I suddenly found myself researching a short break.  It was then I found a 5 night cruise called Tulips and Chocolates with Fred Olsen, with a specific excursion to Keukenhof - this suited me perfectly. No overnight coach journeys from Shropshire over the English channel and on to Amsterdam. Though Euro Star now run trains from London to Amsterdam, not without a transfer in Belgium initially, and I would still need to get to London from Shropshire. I just do not have the stamina for such journeys. You can of course fly, but that was not an option for me currently. So a cruise would do nicely!

Visit Guide Keukenhof Tulip Gardens Amsterdam

My sister and I, both of us equally fanatic about gardening, enjoyed the leisurely cruise from Southampton to Amsterdam and arrived the weekend of the Tulip Festival. Our trip to Keukenhof  gardens was booked for the Sunday, its busiest weekend!  To fully explore the Keukenhof gardens I would need use a wheelchair, I am not able to walk such distances. So I was delighted to see that Keukenhof have wheelchairs you can book online before you visit, you pay a returnable deposit of 20 Euros when you collect the wheelchair. 
Visit Keukenhof Tulip Gardens Dutch Bulb Fields
It was sheer fluke but funny that this man happened to be pointing at the Tulip fields when this photo was captured by my sister
Visit Guide Keukenhof Tulip Gardens Amsterdam

We left the cruise ship at 9am,and arrived at Keukenhof gardens just after 10.15am, the roads were very busy as we nearer our destination. En route we enjoyed the fields of colour of the surrounding Tulips fields. We also passed the headquarters of Bakker the largest garden specialist in Europe, not sure if they are still operating in the UK. Also spotted were a number of floral decorated floats that were used in the flower festival parade the previous day. 
Visit Guide Keukenhof Tulip Gardens Amsterdam
En route to Keukenhof and we pass Bakker headquarters
On to the gardens...
Visit Guide Keukenhof Tulip Gardens Holland
Wheelchair collected just as you enter the park, and we were off. We were limited by time, we only had 3 hours to explore Keukenhof as our ship set sail at 4pm. There are not just gardens to explore but also numerous flower show pavilions to look around and be inspired by. 
Visit Guide Keukenhof Tulip Gardens fountain

Visit Guide Keukenhof Tulip Gardens Holland
Gorgeous views very which way

The weather was very sunny and warm, the leaves on the trees supplied wonderful dappled shade adding to the overall feel of the gardens. Coincidentally my neighbours had visited the week previous and were very disappointed that none of the leaves were out, so worth waiting for in my opinion.  The use of water around the gardens was impressive the lakes, ponds, fountains and rills created eye catching scenes. Adding a touch of calm to the crowded chaos.
Visit Keukenhof Tulip Gardens Holland Muscari River
Muscari River surrounded by Daffodils and Tulips

Visit Keukenhof Tulip Gardens Holland Hyacinths
A stunning display of Hyacinths and Tulips 

Whilst everyone is there to admire and enjoy the flowers they also all want to take photos and videos, something you need to embrace. I have not hidden the crowds from my photos, this will give you a realistic view of what to expect visiting during peak time. Though we did still manage to find a quiet spot or too to enjoy an ice cream. 
Visit Keukenhof Flower Pavilions Holland

Visit Keukenhof Flower Pavilions Holland

Visit Keukenhof Flower Pavilions Holland

Keukenhof Highlights and tips...
The flower shows in the Willem-Alexander Pavilion had some inspirational arrangements, using many varieties of cut flowers. It was much less crowded in here, so we also took the opportunity to enjoy a nice slice of dutch apple cake. 

You will find plenty of plant labels within the displays, so if you spot that one Tulip you want to grow back home you can easily source it.

Be prepared to join a long queue for entry into the windmill, where you can enjoy raised views over looking the park and the adjacent bulb fields. Though there is a lovely food stall serving fresh warm stroopwafles, which I can thoroughly recommend! 
Visit Keukenhof Tulip Garden Holland Windmill

Visit Keukenhof Tulip Garden Holland Bulb Fields
Bulb fields viewed from the Keukenhof gardens
Disappointing that the Tulipmaina pavilion was just so busy when we entered we had to turned around, we ran out of time.

You can view the extensive bulb fields from inside the gardens, viewing points are located next to the wind mill and near the petting zoo. These can be busy but people soon move on once they have captured a photo.
The boat trips within the park looked like a great way to explore the tulips and gardens without being surrounded by crowds. There is a small extra charge for this. Having spoken with a couple on our coach they went straight to the boat hut next to the windmill when we arrived.  They really enjoyed a lovely relaxing trip around the gardens, and highly recommended it. Another good way to see the gardens if you have limited walking. 
Keukenhof Gardens Excursion Chocolates and Floral Fred Olsen Cruise

Visit Keukenhof Tulip Garden Holland Selfie

Visit Keukenhof Tulip Garden Holland

Wanting a souvenir to remember your visit? Obviously at this time of year you can not buy tulip bulbs but you can order them for delivery, there were a number of bulb huts located within the park.  

If you are travelling by coach there are a number of toilets located by the coach park. These are a lot less busy than those at the entrance to the park, worth remembering when you are leaving the gardens to avoid the queues. 

My Gardeners World feature...
Keukenhof Gardens Excursion Chocolates and Floral Fred Olsen Cruise

I shared a number of photos during my visit to Keukenhof on my gardening Instagram account ShropshireGardener, including the one above. I was very surprised but pleased when Gardeners World asked to include this photo in their Keukenhof in Spring feature for their website. That is probably the closest I will ever get to Monty Don! Incidentally you will also see a photo of the Muscari river surrounded with tulips and daffodils opened, you will of spotted a photo above I took where they had yet to open, I think I actually prefer them waiting to bloom.

I will certainly be wanting a return visit to Keukenhof. Hope you have found visit interesting, let me know if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer them.

More information...
Keukenhof Gardens
Fred Olsen cruises to Amsterdam
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