Archives Month: June 2016

After months of hard work, preparing for my wedding day, I was really looking forward to the day out my friends had organised for me at The Haven Spa in Exeter.

We were greeted by beaming smiles and friendly faces, immediately putting us at ease and before we knew it, our jackets had been whisked away and replaced by a glass of bubbly  – bring it on! We were made to feel special from the off with fluffy robes and slippers waiting for us. A blissful 2 hours were spent in the stunning state of the art thermal suite, whilst sipping our fizz which disappeared far too quickly, but luckily there was plenty of iced water to re-hydrate. We moved between the sauna, aroma-scented sanarium, mosaic heated loungers, Jacuzzi and salted foot spas, finishing with the rain dance shower and for the brave, the heart-stopping freezing bucket shower!

Then it was treatment time, first up was a ‘deeper than deep’ hot stone massage lasting a heavenly hour, which was like nothing I had experienced before, releasing hidden energy from muscles I wasn’t even aware of. Then followed the obligatory manicure, ensuring everyone looked their best for the upcoming night out. We left feeling suitable relaxed and pampered and ready to take on what the rest of the weekend had in store for us.

The Haven lived up to its name – it was a very special day to put in the pre-wedding memory bank, spent in a stunning environment and most certainly would have been more relaxing if it wasn’t for all the giggling and chat which typically comes with a group of girlfriends.

On returning to work the following Monday and feeling not quite 100%, I was delighted to discover that Armada had actually funded the complete fit-out of the thermal suite. I, by pure chance had been able to enjoy using equipment we had financed.

Life can sometimes surprise and delight us when we are least expecting it.

On a recent trip to South Devon, in the middle of lush rolling hills and high hedges, dressed in campion, primroses and daffodils, we happened upon an old agricultural barn that has been converted into a retail unit and café.

At the entrance to the property, two corten steel gates announced that this was the home of Nkuku, a lifestyle store selling a wide variety of homewares. Mirrors, lamps, rugs and furniture sit alongside beautiful leather bags and folios and so much more.

When Ali and Alex Cooke were travelling in India eleven years ago they discovered a stream of local artists and artisans creating products that the couple knew would be appreciated by folk back home.

Harlal and his fellow villagers were hand stitching beautiful leather goods in Rajastan in northwest India. Puru and his friends were creating modern and practical pottery in Tamil Nadu while Nandu designs and produces a range of fine jewellery in West Bengal.

Through their contacts across India, Ali and Alex have developed a Fairtrade supply of rustic goods that are obviously appealing to a cross section of British home makers.

From their HQ at Hartbertonford near Totnes they have expanded to a retail unit in Brighton and another near Chichester, also in Sussex. So popular are their choices of imports that John Lewis and 1,500 other retailers are all wanting to sell Nkuku goods.

What a pleasure to come across these entrepreneurs and to enjoy their enterprise and hard work. It’s people like Alex and Ali, creating, employing and expanding that make SMEs in the UK so vitally important – and they have four young children to bring up as well!!

One of our highlights of the year is a visit to the Chelsea Flower Show, so last week included a train trip to Paddington, several hours rubbing shoulders with the glitterati at the show, followed by a light supper at Five Fields Restaurant, just off the Kings Road.

Being dedicated, not to say totally mad gardeners (most Saturdays and Sundays we are digging, weeding and planting for 8 straight hours), we found ourselves at odds with the show judges and the public this year. Their choices of Gold medal gardens did not inspire us and nor did Matthew Wilson’s “God’s Own County”.

What did blow our gardening boots off was the Husqvarna Garden, designed by Australian, Charlie Albone, which was cool, serene and structured and importantly, a garden that everyone could create in their own space. Why Charlie was awarded a Silver-gilt medal only the judges know.

South Korean, Hay Joung Hwang designed the LG Smart Garden as a stunning outdoor living space with plantings of elegant herbaceous blues, whites and occasional pinks. The whole effect was practical, restful and charming and called for Gold but again Silver-gilt was awarded.

A very different garden was The Royal Bank of Canada Garden, designed by local boy, Exeter based, Hugo Bugg. His design was inspired by the landscape, flora and fauna of Jordan – a very contemporary garden that was awarded – yes you guessed it!

Within a few days of our trip to Chelsea I was called to visit one of the suppliers of plants to the show gardens. Their’s is a particularly difficult task; to produce vast amounts of plants that have to be delivered to the show, planted and then come into their own and be perfect for the duration of the week.

Many of the flowers would naturally be past their best in late May, while others have to be encouraged to bloom when their flowering time is June, July or August.

Knowing my horticultural background and Armada’s extensive experience and flexibility, we were asked to finance a complete bio-mass heating system for the nursery, restaurant and shop. In addition, a beautiful stone barn is being converted to house major refrigeration in order to keep the blooms in perfect condition.

Funding the heating and refrigeration is blooming easy for us, so next year’s Chelsea will have an added interest for me. Hopefully our client’s will award us a gold medal for service and attitude!!