Wildlife friendly gardening – keeping it untidy!

Take a walk on the wild side

Wildlife friendly gardening

Wildflower patch

We aren’t worried about a tidy garden here at Shoestring Cottage. Just as well as we don’t have enough time to spare to keep it immaculate. We are more interested in wildlife friendly gardening, with lots of grasses, nettles and wildflowers. There is a little pond that attracts loads of frogs and insects too, and always lots of birds singing and bugs buzzing around.

This year we decide to finally sow all the little packets of wildflower seeds that we seem to collect; freebies from various garden shows and magazines. We had a tiny circle of wildflowers surrounding a beautiful clematis last year. It was very pretty but I longed for a meadow with a carpet of colour.

Move over carrots

We had two vegetable patches previously but just didn’t have time to cultivate and preserve so much produce. This year we gave over the smaller patch to the wild! We sowed about 7 or 8 packets of wildflower seeds and then let nature get on with it. It hasn’t turned out like the carpet of flowers I imagined. Rather, the plants are tall! But there is a huge variety like cornflowers, poppies, foxgloves, daisies and loads I have yet to identify. It is choc a bloc full of bees and insects as well, which is fabulous.

Wildlife friendly gardening

Not too tidy

We deliberately keep some areas of grass long so that the frogs have somewhere to hide.  There is a big pile of old logs and twigs at the bottom of the garden, which the stag beetles like. They are rare generally, but we happen to live in a stag beetle hot spot so like to encourage them. I am hoping for a hedgehog some day but haven’t had one so far.

Lightly controlling some areas of the garden and keeping them a bit untidy means that wildlife friendly gardening saves us time – this is great for busy people! I will save the clipped and perfect lawn for my retirement (maybe).

Wildlife friendly gardening saves money

The great thing about wildflowers is that they tend to self seed. We have foxgloves pop up every year, although we never bought any. They arrived all by themselves! I am hoping that our beautiful wildflower patch will come back each year and won’t cost us anything. So wildflower friendly gardening saves cash too!

The garden is just starting to become productive and tonight I picked our first red and blackcurrants, as well as three courgettes. We should have broad beans in the next week as well. Food production can carry on alongside the wildlife friendly gardening.

Do you make room for the wildlife? Do you have bug hotels or a pond? What works best to attract nature into your garden?

What would make you recycle more?

How much do you recycle?

Most of us recycle some of the time. Probably easy stuff like newspapers and cans. Maybe plastic bottles if your local authority collects them. There is lots more that can be recycled, of course, but many people simply don’t. Maybe they are confused about what is recyclable, can’t be bothered to wash things out or sort items into different bags or don’t really think it is important. So what would make you recycle more?

Our local council is about to bring in some quite dramatic changes to our rubbish collections, which might actually make people recycle more. At least I hope they recycle rather than deciding to tip everything by the side of the road or in a quiet beauty spot!

How to change behaviour and recycle more

Recycling has been a thing for long enough that you would have thought people’s behaviour would have changed and that they would be in the habit of recycling. However, this is clearly not the case. Some of my neighbours never seem to put out anything except black bins. A few of my work colleagues throw cans and plastic bottles in the general rubbish even though the bin is right next to a recycling container (I spend quite a lot of time fishing them out and telling people off – I am the Recycling Police! I am constantly trying to get them to recycle more). It is not surprising then that some local councils have decided to take more draconian measures to change residents’ habits.

From next week they will only collect 3 black bags of rubbish per household per fortnight. For a smallish household such as mine who recycle quite a lot already this is fine. We generally produce about that much, although I am sure we can do better. For large households I can see this is going to prove quite a challenge.

However, I’m not that sympathetic.  The fact is that all food waste can be recycled and this is a lot of what ends up in the bin (don’t get me started on how much is too much!). Raw stuff like peelings can be composted; cooked and raw can go in the food waste bin.  This includes meat, fish and bones, as well as teabags and bread. Glass bottles and jars can go in the recycling bin.  Rinsed cans, tins and metal aerosols can go in too. Don’t forget the aluminium foil. Paper and card can easily be recycled.

Perplexing plastics

Plastics seem to be the area that causes the most confusion. Because folk don’t know what is recyclable they seem to recycle hardly any of it. You can recycle bottles, yogurt and cream pots, butter, ice cream or margarine tubs and plastic trays like those meat and fruit arrive in – just rinse them first. There are other items like roll on deodorant containers that can be recycled but you might not think about it.  I met the local waste and recycling officer when I worked as a polling clerk the other week. He told me that they were now using an excellent company who could recycle almost any type of plastic, so to throw it all in and they would sort it at the other end. I am tempted to do this as we will seriously shrink the amount that goes into our black bags.

I had a quick look at the British Plastics Federation website and this is what it says:

Nearly all types of plastics can be recycled, however the extent to which they are recycled depends upon technical, economic and logistic factors. As a valuable and finite resource, the optimum recovery route for most plastic items at the ‘end-of-life’ is to be recycled, preferably back into a product that can then be recycled again and again and so on. The UK uses over 5 million tonnes of plastic each year of which an estimated 29% is currently being recovered or recycled.

How about a compost heap?

We compost most of the garden waste, but put weeds in for the council to collect. We struggle with bindweed and don’t want to risk any seeds or roots surviving in the compost and spreading. If you have no space for a compost heap then let the council take it away.

I think we are pretty good at recycling at Shoestring Cottage but I know we can improve. This is the kick up the backside that we need. I hope the rest of the town follows suit! Are you a rampant recycler and, if not, what would motivate you to recycle more?

Home made eco friendly cleaning spray

I dumped the Mr Sheen years ago and I have been using a mixture of vinegar and water to clean surfaces and furniture. It is very cheap and effective. I  have also on occasion used bicarbonate of soda to scrub the bathroom. However, until now I haven’t really explored any recipes for  a home made eco friendly cleaner such as this one.

home made eco friendly cleaning spray

Home made eco friendly cleaning spray

A home made eco friendly cleaning spray

I hate the idea of living in a house filled with chemicals and the damage that they do to the environment, but I can’t afford the expensive eco-friendly cleaning products you find in the supermarket or health food shop. Over the years a mixture of being very busy and laziness has meant that my cleaning cupboard has started to fill up with standard cleaners. I have bathroom cleaners, bleach, window cleaners, carpet cleaners, oven cleaners….what happened to my green credentials?! My cupboard is full of chemical cocktails in a sea of plastic bottles. Enough is enough!

As I run out of each cleaner I am going to experiment with a cheaper, greener home made alternative. The first has been a general purpose spray cleaner that I have so far used successfully in the kitchen and bathroom as well as the kitchen work surfaces.

This is extremely cheap and easy to make. I put it in an old spray bottle so less plastic waste too! I reckon it cost about 60p for a litre and I have loads of borax substitute left that should last ages.

Orange general household cleaner

An old spray bottle, washed out
2 heaped tsp borax substitute
4 or 5 drops of orange essential oil
100ml white vinegar
warm water

Use a large jug as this fizzes when you add the vinegar to the borax substitute. Start by mixing them together as much as you can. Add your orange oil and top up to the litre mark with warm water. Keep stirring until the borax substitute is dissolved, pour into your spray bottle and get cleaning!

I got my white vinegar from Asda for about 39p and the oil and borax substitute came from Summer Naturals.

Does anyone have some tried and tested eco friendly cleaning spray recipes they would like to share?

Making money and saving it too

I spent the whole evening listing clothes for eBay last night. Quite a boring task but hopefully my efforts will prove fruitful. I currently have 40 odd items for sale 😀.

Dinner was chicken wings marinated in a bottle of Nando’s sauce that appeared from nowhere – I think my darling daughter must have bought it and it was forgotten about in the back of the cupboard. In my opinion chicken wings are very under-rated. There may not be lots of meat on them but what’s there is very flavoursome. Great value too. We had them with a baked sweet potato and some salad for a thrifty dinner. The marinade was nice but it would obviously be cheaper to make it yourself.

It was a gorgeous day here in Essex yesterday. I wish I had known it would be then I would have got the laundry outside before I left for work. I love to see it hanging out there, and it’s so much better than having airers all over the house. Today doesn’t look promising so it is indoors. Roll on spring! 

I refuse to waste money buying and running a dryer. People  are forever asking me why I don’t get one. Firstly, there is no space in the kitchen, secondly even the AAA rated ones cost a lot to run and thirdly not having one is better for the environment. I managed to raise three kids without a dryer so I think I can carry on without one now they are grown up. I swear I am considered rather eccentric to take this stance! 

What about you? Are you a line dryer or do you rely on the tumble dryer?

Save money, save the planet

I wrote this blog post in my first year of blogging in 2013, when I had no readers! I thought it was worth revisiting 😀.

Happily, lots of things that save you money are also good for the environment. Simply consuming less, wasting less, holding onto things for longer, repairing rather than replacing, buying second-hand, etc, will give you a greener lifestyle. Getting off the treadmill of working more to buy more stuff pays dividends to the state of your bank balance and the planet – not to mention your sanity!. There is so much you can do to get a warm green glow…

Don’t waste food. Plan your week’s meals and then go shopping with a list. Stick to the list!!! Watch your portion sizes too. This will help your waistline as well, so double bubble.

If something stops working get out the manual to see if it is something simple. Look on the Internet to see if there are any suggestions. Get a quote for repair.

Likewise, repair your clothing and get your shoes mended rather than throwing them away.

If you need to replace an expensive item check Freecycle or Freegle first, then the noticeboard at the local shop, eBay, charity furniture shops, etc. If you really need to buy new, look at as many reviews as possible and buy energy saving devices – they are cheaper to run.

If you have a garden, make your own compost. Don’t throw peelings, apple cores, teabags, eggshells, etc in the bin. Mix them with your garden waste and compost them. Save as much as possible from going to landfill.

If you like crafts check out websites like Pinterest. They have a whole section of ideas for recycling and upcycling. I spotted some fabulous planters made from old tyres and also brilliant Christmas tree decorations made from old lightbulbs.


Eat less meat – firstly, it is expensive and, secondly, according to Donnachadh mcCarthy in his excellent and informative book ‘Saving the Planet without Costing the Earth’, one acre of land can produce 30,000lb of carrots but only 250lb of beef. Also 15% of methane, a gas that contributes to global warming, comes from farm animals.

Let your garden be a bit untidy – don’t waste money on chemicals, and create a wildlife friendly garden. Gardening costs very little, is good exercise and a great stress buster.

Grow some of your own food! I can’t afford to buy organic in the shops, but everything from the garden is chemical free. Packets of seeds cost just a few pounds and produce masses of delicious vegetables.

Use vinegar and bicarbonate of soda to clean your house. It is extremely cheap, plus do you really want your home to be full of chemicals?

Buy large containers of washing up and laundry liquid. This produces less plastic waste and usually works out cheaper.

When you need new items for your home, buy second-hand. Most of my furniture, curtains, bedding and rugs has come from the charity shop, eBay and auctions. If you are a creative sort you can shabby chic a solid piece of furniture and make it a work of art.

Forget nasty chemical air ‘fresheners’ and plug ins. You are literally inhaling pollutants! If you want fresh air, open a window.

Insulate your house – check to see if you are eligible for any grants. Your energy supplier should have information on this, or try the Energy Saving Trust.

If you exercise, try to resist the urge to buy energy drinks and bottled water. Invest in a sports bottle and fill it from the tap.

Train your family to turn off lights, PCs, TVs and DVD players. Don’t leave items on standby.

Don’t buy clothes that need to be dry cleaned. This is expensive and the dry cleaning process uses toxic chemicals.

If you like to read, use the library or buy second-hand from the charity shop or online.

If you have a baby check out reusable nappies rather than disposables. This saves so much money!

This one will separate the greenies from the dark greenies! Consider using washable sanitary towels or perhaps a Mooncup instead of tampons.

Keep a scrap paper box. The back of junk mail letters and the envelopes they come in are good for list writing!

Re-use wrapping paper.

Save water – if you are on a water meter this makes financial as well as economic sense. Shower instead of bathing, but put the plug in and use the ‘grey’ water to water your plants in the garden.

If you buy fruit in the supermarket, save the plastic bags it comes in and reuse them as sandwich bags.

Keep your accelerator foot light and save petrol. Boy racers must all live at home with their parents – once they have to pay their own rent and bills they may slow down a bit…

These are just a few ideas. There are so many other things you can do once you start to think about it. I would love to hear your suggestions.

Saving money on drying clothes, and some domestic dramas…

I have been considering buying a heated airer for some time now and spotted one that looked good in the Lakeland catalogue recently for £80. I don’t want to waste money on buying and running a tumble dryer, I think they are terrible for the environment and, besides, I don’t really have space for one in the kitchen without sacrificing a cupboard.  So I was really pleased to see a very similar one in Aldi this morning for £30! ( I know, I do get excited about some very odd things!). I think this was a pretty good impulse buy 😀. 

It already has some washing on it and appears to be working well. It can’t take quite as much weight as the Lakeland one – 5kg as opposed to 7kg. I weighed two large wet towels this morning and they were 2.5 kg to give you an idea. So you can’t load it up massively but it will take a medium load of wet clothes I think. Wet towels are pretty heavy though!

Lakeland claim their model costs about 4p an hour to run and this has the same power so I would say it will cost a similar amount. I had it on for four hours earlier to kick things off so 16p so far. I am considering buying a second one for the lodger, if we ever get one. We have some jobs to finish before we advertise the room but I hope to do so within a couple of weeks.

I discovered on the way to Aldi that the wiper on the car had completely shredded. As usually happens, I only found this out when it started to rain and I could barely see to drive! Not a great start to the day. I am not remotely interested in cars as long as they get me where I need to be and don’t cost too much to run, and I usually leave anything car related to Mr S. However, he is away so I had to go get them sorted. Luckily it wasn’t difficult or expensive – I should be more of an independent woman when it comes to these things! However, now an odd warning light has appeared and I am definitely leaving that to him for tomorrow! 

The next drama: I have started to suspect we may have a carbon monoxide leak somewhere as me and DD3 have been feeling headachy and nauseous on and off all week. This morning we both woke up feeling like our eyes were swollen. I thought it was probably a bug but felt better today when we went to see my parents. It occurred to me as we drove home to get it checked out. So we have been sitting with all the windows open waiting for the gas safety people to arrive to check the boiler and cooker. I hope they come soon as I can’t have a cup of tea until they have checked the cooker since I have a hob kettle rather than a plug in one! Luckily it isn’t too cold. 

Fingers crossed it is nothing – I don’t want to have to find the money for a new cooker or boiler. I have just ordered a carbon monoxide detector though and asked myself why we don’t already have one…

UPDATE: all clear…the gas man checked us out and no sign of carbon dioxide. I think we must both have a bug!

A walk on the beautiful Essex coast


I believe that many people have a rather warped view of Essex. The old Essex girl stereotypes, reinforced on the tv by TOWIE (The Only Way is Essex – I don’t recommend it) might paint a view of the county and is inhabitants that most of us don’t recognise and definitely don’t aspire to. In actual fact there is so much more to this area. It is very beautiful, has a fabulous coastline and you don’t in reality see that many orange people with ridiculously white teeth and huge hair!

We went exploring the coast near us on Sunday. It was a glorious September day so we took a trip to Walton on the Naze to visit the brand new Essex WildlifeTrust visitor centre. The beach there looked stunning so we took a walk before having a cup of tea in the cafe.

There also happened to be a classic car show in the town which of course we couldn’t resist. I loved the vintage camper vans. Look at the interior – gorgeous!

We have become members of the Wildlife Trust again and will be exploring their sites all over the county. Let’s hope we don’t spot any TOWIE wildlife en route 😀.

Cutting out the plastic and saving money

Almond oil makes a good cleanser and moisturiser


A while ago I blogged about trying to reduce my plastic waste. I knew that this could save me money too, and it has! I focused on my toiletries and stopped buying handwash and shower gel, instead reverting to good old fashioned bars of soap.

I began buying solid shampoo bars from Lush. These aren’t that cheap to buy at around £6.50 a bar, but they do last a long time. I am on my second bar since April and think it will last me another couple of months. I like them! I did try a solid conditioner bar but this was not a success. It didn’t feel like it was doing anything. I also tried almond oil purchased in a glass bottle but it made my hair rather lank. I am back to cheap conditioner in plastic bottles and still looking for a decent alternative that isn’t expensive. I know you can use vinegar to get a good shine but my hair is dry so I need a bit of moisture.

The solid deodorant has so far lasted 3 months

The almond oil has proved a decent cleanser and I also use it as a body lotion. Mine cost £2.50 for 250ml from a shop in Hackney.
My solid deodorant, again from Lush, has been a huge success and looks as if it will last at least 6 months. It really works and I use it on my feet too so no more expensive aerosol sprays. Mine is based on bicarbonate of soda but they have others. I’m not sure they would work as well. 
I have explored other items sold in glass or metal containers which look nice but are far too expensive for me. They tend to be hand made or luxury items. What a shame the mass producers don’t think about their environmental footprint when producing and packaging their goods. 

Any more ideas?

Designer labels? Only if they are in the charity shop

We have had a lovely last morning in Wales going round the RSPB Dyfi Osprey project just outside Machynlleth. There were cameras trained on the osprey chicks as they were fed sea bass by their parents. They are six weeks old now and will be flying soon. You can see them on camera at http://www.dyfiospreyproject.com


We also saw a few common lizards looking for some sunshine as we walked along the boardwalks over the wetland areas and lots of tiny finches. There was even what looked like a red squirrel, although one of the staff said it was a young grey. It looks red to me!

Next stop was the charity shop in Machynlleth where I picked up some real bargains, including a Karen Millen top with the label on (saying £99) for £4! Who spends that much on a top and then doesn’t bother to wear it? Someone with more money than sense I guess. I also bought two Phase Eight dresses, a Monsoon skirt, an M&S sequinned dress and navy work skirt and a lovely wool blanket. Everything bar the Karen Millen top cost £2 each. If anything doesn’t fit or I don’t like it I will put it on eBay and make a profit. I don’t feel bad if I do this – a girl has got to make ends meet and I do give the charity shops a lot of my spare cash.

We will have a meander this evening and get the car packed and head back to England tomorrow. I could stay here forever! We will be back 😀.

Trying out my birthday presents: Lush by name and Lush by nature

I have been trying the Lush products I got for my birthday and I am pretty impressed so far. I was given Godiva solid shampoo, Jungle solid conditioner and T’eo Krysztal deodorant. 
  The deodorant feels like a solid lump of what I suspect is bicarbonate of soda with a wax bottom holding it all together. It smells lemony and herby and I really like it. I wasn’t convinced it could really work though and I have been pleasantly surprised at how effective it is – I am even using it on my feet! Ok, I am not a manual worker and am office based so I guess I don’t sweat that much. Still,  I will buy it again. Don’t use it straight after shaving though as I did as it stings!

The shampoo bar was also nice. I only needed a bit on my hands and it lathered up really well and smelt divine. The conditioner I  still have reservations about. I am used to a big blob on my hands that is easy to distribute throughout my hair. The instructions say to run it down the hair shaft which I did but it felt more difficult to get it all over. I thought my hair would be full of tangles after but actually it wasn’t, so I will persevere. 

My hair felt really nice when it was dry. Lots of liquid products make my hair feel heavy and coated and my scalp itch. None of that with these products so far. I will need to use them for a while to see whether they are a good choice long term.

I hope I don’t have to revert back to the old products in plastic bottles! Can anyone recommend any other good products that are plastic free and cost effective?

(This is not a sponsored post and the views expressed are my own honest opinions).