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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.

 

Spring is not just the time of daffodils and rising sap, it’s also the time of food festivals in the South West of England.

The Porthleven Food and Music Festival is swiftly followed by the Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink and then the Dartington Food Fair at the end of May.

Currently our TV screens are bombarded with MasterChef and Great British Menu to name but two and now we start the annual round of County Shows.

All these events showcase the very high standard of South West food and drink manufacturing and the amazing art of both amateur and professional chefs.

For many years I have supported and promoted the superb talents of British food and drink artisans and the plethora of gifted chefs who give their lives to creating culinary masterpieces, day in and day out and not always appreciated.

Lo and behold, on our recent visit to the Porthleven Food and Music Festival, it was a New Zealander that created one of those evenings that will always stay with you and cause you to smile when you reflect on the experience.

Although I had followed Jude Kereama on past episodes of Great British Menu, I had not had the chance to experience his food until we arrived at the normally sleepy fishing village just south of Helston.

With the festival in full swing I was not expecting Jude’s team at Kota to be fully focussed. Well shame on me for doubting this half-Maori, half-Malaysian genius.

From the moment we walked through the door of Kota, overlooking the harbour, the front of house staff were friendly, relaxed and professional throughout. If only restaurateurs realised that when the front staff know what they are doing and put the patrons at ease the food tastes so much better.

Our starter of Porthleven crab, tuna tartare, avocado and horseradish snow was followed by feathered steak and shin of beef ragout and ended with chocolate fondant pudding with malted ice cream and salted caramel sauce.

The wines complimented the food perfectly and the presentation of the food was artistic and just encouraged you to immerse yourself in the experience.

Was it that the food and service were some of the best we have enjoyed anywhere in the World that shocked us or that the cost of the meal was so reasonable for such high standards.

Sad to say, we will have to drive down to the tip of Cornwall again to relive this amazing experience as that evening we were somewhat distracted by the couple opposite who had come out to spend their money but hell bent on having a blazing row. Very entertaining and a first class reason to return.

Well done Jude, you are everything we in the South West can be proud of.

What a strange world we live in! Last Friday my colleagues and I had a blast, like vast numbers of people across the UK, we were larking about in order to raise money for Red Nose Day.

Seeing footage of sick and starving children across Africa brings out the best in folk, young and old. A day of compassion to help the desperate probably blesses the giver more that the recipient and long may Red Nose Day and Comic Relief pluck the heart strings and wallets of the comparatively wealthy Brits. (If you look at the Armada Pinterest boards you will know that Richard Curtis is one of my hero’s).

Within a few days I was watching a young footballer in a pub talking about his plucked eyebrows and the same day I was at the dentist for a check-up. You may be puzzled by the connection but hang on with me.

Inside this Grand Design dental clinic there were numbers of tunic clad glamorous receptionists, hygienists and dentist, all smiling, friendly and welcoming. Obviously this is a highly successful practice and the secret of their success is to be found in today’s obsession with health and vanity. Teeth whitening and straightening, capping and implants contribute far more to the coffers than extractions and fillings.

Now I’m not criticising men’s desire to spend their wages on hair removal or the latest trimmers or the folk that want healthy mouths and smiles that increase their confidence. Aren’t we fortunate that we can afford these treatments?

However, the void between the western world that has so many choices and the people of the Middle East and Africa who frequently have no way out of poverty is incomprehensible. The £73M raised by Red Nose Day so far won’t solve the World’s problems but it will save lives and God knows the love and compassion of the 4 year old child in Scunthorpe who gave up all his pocket money or the pensioner in Dartford who went without to bless a family in Uganda.

This week we have started the process to remove ourselves from the EU and I, for one, am ecstatic that once again we will be GREAT Britain. After all, it’s the people that make Britain great.

I was really heartened recently to see a family, united and working together to create a new business and helping to create new jobs in Scotland.

Both Gavin and Kirsten, brother and sister, are in their 30s and living together in a property that their parents had helped them buy. Kirsten has spent years working in child care and Gavin is a successful accountant but ambitious and wanting a life away from general practise.

After months of research and family discussions the couple determined to set up a children’s play centre combined with a climbing wall.

With significant resources of their own, Gavin came to Armada and asked if we would support their venture by financing some of the assets needed to set up this operation.

Wisely he had created a limited company and included his parents as directors. Knowing it would be easier to obtain funding support by offering the guarantees of all the directors made the decision to help them almost a foregone conclusion. The business plan made sense, there was plenty of equity in their homes and Gavin is going to continue with his present job until the business is well established.

When Gavin approached us he had thoroughly done his homework. He knew about our significant background of helping new businesses get started, knew that we had a long history of investing in play centres and nurseries and knew that Armada is highly respected by the banking and finance industries.

The only item to discuss was what of the many assets needed to set up their play centre was Armada prepared to finance.

When we pointed out that on top of the obvious play equipment, climbing wall and catering equipment, we will always consider funding flooring, lighting, doors and partitioning and other ‘soft assets’, Gavin had to rework his plans and spreadsheet.

As Gavin said, “I didn’t realise just how far Armada would go in supporting new ventures. No wonder that your reputation brought us to you.”

Although it’s very early days, so far Kirsten and Gavin are delighted by the activity levels and the amount of repeat visitors they are attracting.