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Being an hotelier is no bed of roses! Constantly having to be aware of pricing, market share, staffing, TripAdvisor and the rest of modern marketing and social media are all issues that lay in wait for us.

At times there is so much to think about that we can slip up on the obvious and forget that this is the hospitality industry.

Having been involved with hotels, extensively in the UK but also throughout the world for all my working life has given me experiences of the brilliant and not quite perfect hotel offering.

I like to think that I am a fairly normal hotel guest, certainly not too demanding, so what do I look for in an hotel that I will want to revisit.

Of course, the first impression counts, so a relaxed, friendly, smiley, efficient welcome is a good place to start.

After travelling to my destination, I want my room to be ready when I arrive and to find that housekeeping has done its job properly. After unpacking, the shower or bath is calling so that I can freshen up and change.

Here is where many hoteliers have taken their eye off the ball. Lovely large, white, fluffy towels are provided but where is the face cloth? Ok, I did think to pack one just in case but it’s so disappointing that the hotel couldn’t be bothered.

Never mind, the water is hot, so after drying off I jump into the bath robe, make a pot of tea and crash out for twenty minutes. How would you feel Mr Hotelier if the dressing gown your wife bought you for Christmas didn’t cover your nether regions or even meet up in the front. I must be careful not to walk by the window when I make the tea!

If you’re eating in, the whole question of food is very subjective, so if the menu doesn’t suit, it’s my own fault for not checking the iPad before I booked the room. But if you are using the restaurant, please Mr Hotelier, train your staff to know that customers are normally patient once they have a drink in their hand. If you are going to make your guests wait for a drink or the menu, you will probably be storing up niggles for yourself for the rest of the evening.

After a good meal and a decent bottle of wine I always go to bed happy, but sometimes not for long. Too many hotels in the UK are still expecting their guests to sleep on 4ft 6ins or 5ft spring loaded mattresses. Now neither her ladyship nor I  are that big, but please, king sized, memory foam mattresses in all rooms or stop calling yourself an hotel in the 21st century. How can we expect to attract more continental or inter-continental trade if we can’t provide the basics?

We need to consider that with a less robust pound, more Brits will remain in the UK and other nations will take the opportunity of favourable exchange rates to visit these near perfect islands.

If my blog hasn’t caused too much offence, do bear in mind that I have been funding hotels and their purchases of linen, beds, furniture, carpets, catering equipment etc. for over 40 years.

If you are thinking that perhaps it’s time to cut the bathrobes up for cleaning cloths or even turning them into flannels or giving your guests the beds they deserve, you know where to turn for finance, support and expertise.

 

 

The wonderfully diverse weather that we enjoy in the south of England is a real blessing to gardeners, hardly ever too cold, reasonable rainfall and our fair share of sun. However, it can make choosing the right time to take leave from the office a little problematic.

We decided to spend the first two weeks in June, catching up with the chores in the garden and spending time resting, reading and reflecting.

The weather for our first week was perfect for rolling up the sleeves and getting on with the ‘Chelsea chop’ while being surrounded by the first flush of roses this year (We are huge fans of David Austin roses).

By the end of the day, with the old bones creaking a little, it was very rewarding to soak in a warm bath with a large glass of chardonnay and plan the priorities for tomorrow’s schedule.

As the week came to an end someone turned the thermostat up and the south west of England went into shorts and ice cream mode. The heatwave lasted all week. There was nothing for it but to cease the horticultural endeavours and kick back in the shade.

It was good to stop and look around at the results of our previous week’s efforts. The borders looked blooming radiant. The alliums, Purple Sensation, were living up to their name, Nepeta was overflowing the edges and the blue Salvias and Geranium Rozannes were putting on growth as you watched them.

Recently Gardeners World viewers voted for the Golden Jubilee Plant of their choice. Not surprisingly, Geranium Rozanne came second behind everyone favourite, the rose.

Like summers of our childhood, day after day was spent with mug or glass in hand, soaking up the peace and quiet, which was only broken by the distant sound of silage making and the soporific sound of bees collecting their nectar.

For hours on end we watched our apian colleagues pollinating our plants for us and hopefully flying off to do the same for our farming neighbours.

With the serious decline of bee populations, you may want to do your bit to reverse the trend. When you are next in your local garden centre or nursery, remember that bees are particularly fond of plants that have blue flowers.

Geranium Bill Wallis and Verbena Bonariensis are both great favourites of bees and they have the added benefit of seeding prolifically throughout the garden, filling in the gaps for you. Your wallet will love you putting these plants in the trolly.

In our garden it is definitely the Nepetas that our friends make a bee line for. Plant a few of these and watch them grow dramatically. At the end of the season you can split the plant several times, increasing the chance for your plot to be the local bee heaven.

Depending on your soil and climate, one of the best attractors for bees and eye appeals has to be the Lavender. Choose a long-stemmed variety and plant it en masse, either in blocks or as an edging plant for paths or borders.

If you are not a user of Pinterest, open an account, it’s free, and tap into an encyclopedia of pictures and ideas for your garden. You could start by clicking on Armada’s Pinterest board, ‘Gorgeous Gardens’.

Happy Gardening

For 200 years David Sheppy and his family have been brewing cider in the heart of Somerset. Over recent years cider has continued to grow in popularity so that within the last century it has gone from being a mainly farm produced product that frequently could be detrimental to your health, to now being a mainstream beverage that no supermarket, corner shop or public house can afford to ignore.

Not content to sit back on their laurels and history, the Sheppy family has recently undergone a major investment in growth.

No longer are they just cider makers with a museum and tea shop. They are riding the crest of cider’s popularity and have added a very pukka Apple Bay Bar & Restaurant, together with an Italian styled deli and a butchery.

This is another example, like farm shops, where out of a small business, with determination, commitment and focus, the family have backed themselves and developed a quality product that is creating a new following.

Producing bottled cider, having a stylish eatery and a deli is a clever concept. I wonder how many people who drop in for a coffee or charcouterie board, then pick up a few bottles, some Italian pastries and a couple of steaks to take home.

David and his family are symptomatic of the amazing entrepreneurial spirit that is abundant in the UK; individuals and families, prepared to commit themselves and their resources to creating jobs and offering quality brands to their customers.

In case anyone should think this blog is a promo for Sheppy’s we would point out that there is no personal or financial connection between Armada and Sheppy’s. However, we do have a lifetime’s dedication to supporting and encouraging brewers, restaurateurs, deli’s and the retail industry.

Many congratulations to David and his team for the superb way they are developing new ventures to be signposts for others to follow.

 

 

Being a keen gardener I am currently drawn to all the Royal Horticultural Society shows that are taking place. This year we have already had The Malvern Show and Chelsea. Next week is The Chatsworth Show followed in early July by Hampton Court.

For Chelsea, the BBC gives significant coverage throughout the week, with programmes during the afternoon and evening of each day.

Part of the production is given over to the growers who are exhibiting in the Great Marquee and those supplying the show gardens.

Considerable planning and effort needs to go into having the trees, shrubs and flowers in perfect condition for the show week.

Significant investment needs to be made by the horticultural growers to produce perfect blooms for the RHS shows, for public consumption and for the wholesale trade.

Acres of glass houses need to be paid for and fitted out with sophisticated lighting, watering systems and ventilation. Then there is the flooring and staging and all the various forms of transportation needed to collect the plants and cut flowers. Pallet trucks, fork trucks, hi-lifts, JCBs and lorries, not to mention all the refrigeration required to keep the produce in prime condition.

Fortunately, Armada has a history of supporting the horticultural industry, so whether it’s miles of watering pipes that need funding or hi-tech computer systems or HIAB machinery to keep Chelsea the world’s premier flower show, Armada are there to finance the equipment needed.

As I sit at my desk writing this article I am looking out of my floor to ceiling windows watching the swans on the River Clyst.

Armada, the garden designers, landscapers and growers are all like the swans, with our feet paddling under water in order that the visitors at Chelsea and Chatsworth enjoy the perfect, finished effect.

Sunday morning awoke to the sound of our resident blackbird’s alarm call at 6 o’clock.

The moment my eyes opened it was to bright early sunshine and the first thought was that it was a perfect photography opportunity to capture this season’s spring flowers.

Quietly I slid out of bed, grabbed a tracksuit and camera and hit the kettle on my way out. The low sun was throwing long shadows, giving intensity to all the colours of the plants and flowers.

I noticed straight away that during the night the garden fairies had been carefully placing their crystal drops on all the rose buds and the alium flower heads.

If you are awake at this time of the day, it’s worth sitting for a few moments, just marvelling at nature’s beauty and this morning the whole garden had been given a wash and brush up overnight.

After completing my photo shoot I sat and pondered the vista in front of me. A light mist hung over the pond while clouds of pollen floated down from the beech trees. The early geraniums skirted around the water and great drifts of clematis hung from the trees and hedges.

At any time of the year, as we look at our gardens, we are viewing the curtains, wallpaper and furniture of our outside room. Little wonder that I am happy to do the odd hour or two of dusting and sweeping there.

I would encourage any gardener, novice or old timer like me, never walk past a weed, bend (it’s good for your back) and pluck the weed out. Leaving it there will guarantee its pollination and infinitely more weeds to deal with in the future.

Don’t forget to spend time sitting and appreciating the results of your previous efforts.

Happy Gardening.