Trip to Tokyo

We started 2017 with a trip to Tokyo

Our Koi Pond

Regular readers will have followed the progress of our Koi Bond build, heres the finished result

Singapore Botanic Garden

Whilst in Singapore we visited the botanic gardens, a fantastic explosion of tropical and exotic plants.

Colourful pots

The summer of 2016 saw the addition of a number of colourful pots tp the top patio

Phoenix from the Flames

After the fire came rebuilding and our new Jungle Hut is better than ever!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Cactus. Cactus, Everywhere

Botanica seems to be the big trend in interiors at the moment. I thought it was a 2016 thing, but it looks like it is set to continue this year following on from the many items we already saw springing (or is that sprouting?) from stores last year.

Cactus seems to be the most prominent of the lot, followed very closely by pineapple. Throw in to the mix monstera, philodendron, and palm leaf patterns. Bringing the garden indoors is very trendy at the moment, at least in terms of patterns and colour schemes.

Funny enough, it seems Europe has been rather slow to ride on the trend as this has been going on for awhile in North America. In fact some of items we've been spotting now have been on sale for years now across pond. But I'm glad they have finally made their way here to become mainstream, at least for now.

Cactus, cactus everywhere. From the high end like these three vases from Danish brand Hay by Linda Cofan and carried by Liberty London:

More recently, as lighting in LeBHV Marais in Paris...

These vases were also spotted in the above department store but have also seem them in other places like the mid range store West Elm:

And the fabulous Luka Luna also in Paris. I can only take a snap of the window display as they don't allow photography inside the store but if you find your way in the area between Hotel De Ville and Pompidou Centre this is well worth checking out.

Back in the UK, Ben de Lisi also have a cactus inspired range in the home section of Debenhams department store:

And like anything that is on trend, it has also trickled through to cheap and cheerful shops, like these at Tiger:

I have yet to buy any of the items above despite gravitating towards them each time I spot them. Hopefully the trend will last long and persist for a considerable time. They are fun and aesthetically pleasing, and perhaps may encourage gardening and to go for the real things.

Mark :-)

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Tokyo 2016 - Part II pink swans and skyscrapers.

Our third day started out with a very relaxing morning in Ueno park a park surrounded by towers, immediately reminding us of New Yorks Central Park albeit on a smaller scale. Our approach into the park was met with a sea of brown 'reeds' that really seemed quite off putting. Surely the super clean Tokyoites wouldn't tolerate such a messy lake. We quickly realised however that this wasn't a lake full of scruffy reeds but actually a huge lotus pond associated with the temple located in the centre of this section of the park. This must look stunning in the summer time.

Heading round the park the larger body of water was home to a floating armada of pink swans (and blue, yellow, green etc), how could we resist!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Tokyo 2017 - Part I towers, temples and neon!

After two flights, the first for three hours followed by a nine hour flight from Helsinki, we were somewhat relieved to see all the airport signs were in English. We were both amazed at just how smooth everything ran, disembarkment, immigration and baggage reclaim all dealt with in 20 minutes or so. If only that happened back home!

First task finding and buying train tickets into Tokyo, we had flown into Narita airport which is further out than Hanira(Check spelling) and a 40 minute journey into the centre of the city followed. Arriving at the hotel late morning we opted to fight the jetlag induced tiredness and set out to explore the bright lights of Ginza. 

Mount Fuji from our hotel
Stores in Ginza

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Tokyo - Mega City, Mega Holiday

Having just returned to the UK following a week in Tokyo I'm instilled with a sense of enthusiasm to put pen to paper or more aptly put fingers to keyboard. 

The last year or so has seen quite a reduction in the level of activity on Alternative Eden and this has been for a variety of reasons, firstly as we have alluded to before, we have both been a lot busier with work, working hard and then playing hard in our spare time meant the blog took a back seat. We have also spent a lot more time over the last year travelling, in 2015 we spent time away from the UK 10 times, something of a record for us. The garden took a slight back seat to a shift in lifestyle although that didn't prevent several projects and multiple plant buying escapades.

We had several conversations about what to do with the blog, should we just accept it had come to the end of its life as blogs frequently do, perhaps just blog occasionally or maybe allow the blog to change direction slightly and follow our lives and activities whatever they may be and wherever that takes us.

After some deliberation and another long spell without an update we opted to expand the focus of Alternative Eden and follow our lives, with that in mind I come back to the focus of this post - Tokyo.

January isn't the typical time of year to plan for a holiday, certainly not something beyond a weekend away. Christmas has just been and full of resolutions to reign in spending or cut back following a period of excess many opt for periods in the gym or otherwise. However we had wanted to visit Tokyo for some time, our interest aroused by keeping koi, the gardening styles and delights that Japan is famous for, and also a fascination with travel to the 'exotic' and unusual.

With all this in mind we planned last year for a January pick me up, an immediate antidote to best intentions and new year resolutions. Neither of us had been to Japan before so this was going to be a one week whirlwind to pack in as much as we possibly could.

The first major decision was on where to stay, we spent some time (we means Mark!) exploring the pros and cons of various areas, I was drawn to a hotel in Shinjuku with a giant Godzilla on the roof garden whereas Mark was attracted by the idea of staying in Ginza one of Tokyos upmarket shopping districts. 

With Mark allowing me to make the final decision I was swayed by the Ginza option due to the hotel being on the 16th to 27th floors of a modern tower with views towards Mount Fuji, Tokyo Tower and various other skyscrapers. The Mitsui Garden Hotel became our home for a week, and this proved to be a fantastic decision. 
Our Hotel at night - Mitsui Garden Hotel
Tokyo Tower -  taken from the hotel lobby
The hotel itself was well located, close to Shimbashi metro station, an easy walk with suitcases on our first day, plenty of restaurants in the area and also relatively quiet. We went to see the Godzilla tower and the area was heaving with people.

View from our room
Tokyo despite its population doesn't seem to suffer in the central areas from traffic problems. I don't know if this is due to the standard of the mass transit (excellent in our experience), cost of car ownership or political policy. Perhaps a combination of all three.


The reputation we had heard before was that Tokyo was a difficult city to visit for a western tourist but nothing could be further from the truth. All transport we used was signed in both Japanese and English, train announcements were in duel languages. Hotel staff all spoke perfect English as did most people in restaurants - or certainly enough to help us get by one. Restaurants proudly boasted menus in English - although many had pictures even if you were ordering from a local menu.

Over the next few days we'll share more details of what kept us busy.

Looking back as I am now, I can't believe just how much we packed in, and if you stick with us over the next few days we'll share our journey.


Thursday, December 08, 2016

It's Been a While...

Its been such a long time since I wrote anything on the blog, that I had almost forgotten how it works. 

Mark posted a while back that other things were occupying our time, rather than the blog or garden. But sometimes its good just to pen ones thoughts, after all a blog is supposed to be a diary of sorts. 

So what have we been up to! Well this year has been quite a busy one. Several garden projects (as im sure regular readers will have expected), trips abroad, a landmark birthday for myself (21 again!!), days out and DIY in the house whilst both of us having busy professional lives too have kept us occupied. 

The garden has done well this year overall, a couple of surprises with established plants randomly dieing off - Choisya ternata and Aralia elata variegata. Both had been in the garden for a number of years - the Choisya probably about 10, and had shown no signs of problems but suddenly they were gone. We expect to have lots of none-varigated suckers from the Aralia next year as it was a grafted plant.

We also completed the raised bed on the top patio which had been planned for some time.

This was finished in the same sandstone coping we used on the koi pond to tie it into that look, and after some deliberation the brick wall and fence was painted white behind it.

Beyond this and a few smaller projects the garden is pretty much as it was last year. Winter is now fast approaching and the garden has had some frost already, many of the tender plants are already in the greenhouse or jungle hut, although some are still out, trying to keep them out as long as possible but do need to get everything else moved soon.

As I mentioned above we had a number of holidays this year, after a very quiet year for us last year we were determined to make the most of our time off from work, and also make more efforts to take advantage of living fifteen minutes from Luton Airport.

The highlight was a trip to Bali back in October - this was Marks birthday gift to me, and was a fantastic surprise. 

Internally we have finally finished renovating the master bedroom, one of the few rooms in our home that was untouched by our major renovation in 2013. 

So with 2017 around the corner, we have a number of plans for more travel maybe even a major change in lifestyle, so watch this space.


Saturday, October 08, 2016

Autumn Blow

Autumn, it's that time of the year again when we're back to chasing daylight...

With the length of days shortening at a fast pace, it's becoming increasingly difficult too to get some garden chores done after work, when nearly all of them require good lighting to be done properly. Sure there's always floodlights (and we even have head lights now, nifty gadgets!) but nothing really beats the illumination given by the good old sun.

Anyway, before I digress even further what I'm really meant to say is that we're back to mainly being weekend garden warriors again. And with it being autumn it means that one of the garden jobs we have to do is giving the garden a good leaf blowing.

Now this is one the tasks I actually don't like doing and leave it for almost solely for Gaz to do as he doesn't mind it at all. In fact he's actually really good at it. Which is handy because of all garden maintenance that we do that produces the most visual impact in a short period of time of doing so, leaf blowing is the one that takes the top position.

Now why do I dislike doing the leaf blowing so much? It's mainly because of the cable. I'm clumsy with cables and feel that they always get in the way for a smooth and effortless job. And it's bad enough that I have to cope with them when using the vacuum cleaner but needs be I should. Sure there are loads of cordless ones out there but up to now nothing really beats the power of one that is still corded (and with three cats, we do need powerful ones).

Going back to leaf blowers, the same principles goes that it should be powerful enough to do what it's supposed to do and perhaps only a cabled one would do the job...

Until the our friends at Stihl offered us to try and review one of their new products which is a cordless leaf blower.

A cordless leaf blower, will it be powerful enough blow away those autumn leaves running just on rechargeable batteries? And will the batteries be light enough that the blower can be easily maneuvered into delicate angles? And how long can the batteries last, will it be long enough that it can finish the job and beyond that? The scepticism is there of course but a lot of the negativity has been neutralised from the start knowing how reputable a brand Stihl is.

Stihl, we were both very excited to try the product out and to satisfy our own curiosities.

And so we did. And the BGA 56 did not disappoint, far from it...

The battery was quick to charge, was easy to slot in, and was light enough at 3.3kg including the battery that it made the assembled leaf blower easy enough to carry and maneuver while doing the task. In fact it actually felt lighter to carry around than our existing corded one. The design is so much more compact and sleeker too that the airflow seemed more 'precise' that debris was much easier to blow away with much less effort on the arms less exposure to the surrounding plants (and pots!). 

More importantly, was it powerful enough that it was able to do what it's supposed to do? A glowing yes! It's combination of being cordless, a sleeker design, relative light weight, powerful blow, and overall less set up time made the completion of the task a lot quicker, which was a fab bonus! \The length is adjustable to suit you use. Usually it takes Gaz an hour and a half to do the entire garden, having to keep moving cables and the extension lead. This time around, it was done in forty minutes. The battery is said to give 20 mins of continuous blowing, although it lasted longer for us.

A big credit though has to go to the compact lithium ion battery which didn't lose intensity during the entire duration of its use and lasted longer than claimed.

And yes it is cordless! And I had a go to too and thought it was fun to use. Looks like leaf blowing won't be solely Gaz's job from now on.

Thanks Stihl, it's a really great product!

Mark :-)

The Stihl BGA 56 is available from all the usual Stihl stockists.