Buying cheap Christmas tree lights from an online auction site, rather from a trusted retailer such as GardenSite, might seem a good idea at the time but you will probably change your mind after reading a recent report from Which?
You can create the spookiest Halloween Party in town with a spine chilling cast of para-normal misfits including ghosts, ghouls, zombies, vampires and many other sinister characters who inhabit the dark side. David Coton tells you how to transform your home and garden into a thoroughly scary experience.
Halloween is supposed to be when unearthly events take precedence over the natural, when ghosts and spirits roam free and have their big night out. Huge helpings of fantasy on the plate of life satisfies our unquenchable appetite for the mystical and occult. With all the requisite props available there’s no excuse for not having a great party.
After ringing on the Florentine Dragon Gothic Iron Doorbell your guests will expect a para-normal party packed full of weird goings-on, so decorate the house and garden with Fantasy Garden Ornaments to recreate a horror movie film set containing some judiciously placed demons together with ravens who can wing their way through the crowd from the dark recesses.
As people move into the garden, water features can be enhanced by multi-coloured Spooky Fog or Witches Mist while Gothic style furniture, in addition to fabulous gargoyles, wall and tree sculptures will add atmosphere and complete the sinister party ambiance.
The Zombie of Montclaire Moors will undoubtedly cause consternation when bursting out of a flower bed. And if one zombie isn’t sufficient there’s several others who might make their eerie presence felt as well as unsettling wall and tree sculptures that add to the alarming atmosphere.
As for party poopers, and those of a nervous disposition whose stiff upper lip has become decidedly wobbly, they may have sought refuge inside your house, so surprise them with another monstrous zombie, perhaps trying to escape the clutches of the Grim Reaper, whose bloody head and hands will appear to have smashed through the lounge wall.
To make it an unforgettable evening, get the blood circulating with a few scary cocktails. A Bloody Mary (vodka and tomato juice) is the most obvious but why not experiment with a few slugs of grenadine, sangria or any other ingredient that happens to be a gory red, with slices of blood oranges thrown in to make the mixture a fruity crimson concoction that will both shake and stir your guests.
While the grown ups are getting suitably anaesthetized to the weird goings-on, youngsters can spirit away coffin shaped biscuits, pastries in a ghostly design or devour cup cakes with threatening blood red icing.
If young children are invited, they will be entranced by fairies from the secret garden, twinkle toe, pondering and gazing fairies, nymphs, pixies and trolls. Superbly crafted statuettes of cherubs, angels, wizards and unicorns will also provide light relief for youngsters.
Another idea popular for younger party goers (as well as a lot of adults) would be face painting. Ask your guests to turn up in character, make your youngster the scariest kid on the block or transform next door's little horror into the real thing. Pallid faces with oozing blood, spider webs adorning foreheads and apparent horrible injuries can be achieved with a little inventiveness, fake blood and malice.
To go with the face painting, costumes that transform your friends into Christopher Lee lookalikes or a supernatural being can be hired or home made, although your mother-in-law might need very little work to turn her into an old witch. Don't forget your pet, you can really give the dog a bad name by overhauling Rover to resemble the hound from hell with a studded collar and canine black cloak.
No party would be complete without games, love or hate them a bit of guest interaction is no bad thing but preferably not too gory. Apple bobbing is ages old, pumpkin bowling possibly less so. Mummy wrapping is always good fun for kids but perhaps not altogether for mummies. Before getting out the Ouija Board, skeleton hoop toss or pin the eyeball on the monster might be innocent distractions.
And don’t neglect the music, for fun there’s the timeless classic ‘Monster Mash’ and the creepy countdown could continue with ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’ and ‘Werewolves of London’, before humouring your granny with Cliff’s ‘Devil Woman’.
In Brittany there used to be a tradition of placing candles in skulls for Halloween. As they also eat snails and frogs legs, this practice might not sound too weird. But you have to draw a line somewhere and the British seem to prefer round orange vegetables as a safer option, even if they do have devilish faces.
Used originally to frighten away evil spirits, now placed near the front door to deter equally annoying trick or treaters, carved pumpkins have been part of Halloween celebrations for a very long time.
Growing the biggest pumpkin in time for Halloween isn't easy as they take some time to mature and prefer a warm climate. To have the best chance of success, sow seeds indoors during April after visiting your local garden centre and picking a variety such as 'Jack Of All Trades' that is suitable for our modest summer temperatures.
Sow two seeds on their sides in 3" pots filled with good quality compost, the temperature needs to be about 20°C, so you may have to use a propagator.
Following germination, the seedlings that develop true leaves will be large enough to transfer outside after about a month. They should first be hardened off in a cold frame or by leaving them outdoors for gradually longer periods of time.
Pumpkins love moist rich soil, warm temperatures and a sunny sheltered position, so don't plant them out too early.
A growbag is easy to use or, if you are growing them in the garden, you'll need to dig a large hole and fill it with a mixture of well rotted manure and compost with a general purpose fertilizer. Make sure that the soil is slightly raised to ensure good drainage.
Always keep the roots well watered and support the fruits off the ground to avoid rotting. Pinch out unwanted flowers and apply tomato feed every fortnight.
At Halloween, harvest by cutting the stem several inches away from the pumpkin to create a good handle.
Hollow the pumpkin out by extracting the seeds and flesh with a fork, spoon or melon baller. You can then either use a sharp knife to cut a design freehand or first draw it on the skin with a pen.
The classic face has familiar triangular eyes and nose with a mouth that stretches from ear to ear. Usually in need of orthodontic treatment, two or three crooked lopsided teeth are the best dentures that any pumpkin can hope for.
Have you ever thought how disturbing a circus clown's mask is? Perhaps if you are very adept with a sharp knife you can re-create the large round eyes, big nose and slightly manic grin of all the best clowns.
Rather than scary, you could choose other images, perhaps your favourite uncle or a television personality.
Try turning the triangular eyes on their side to point inwards and downwards and replace the crooked teeth with a serrated snarl. Recess the face into the pumpkin to make it even more grotesque.
Think of the things you wouldn't want to bump into in a dark alley. A bat, skull, or giant spider with large fangs. Some of the scariest and more inventive designs can take a fair amount of skill, so try finding a template to download or invest in a pumpkin carving kit.
There's no doubt that television provides gardeners with inspiration, sound advice and good ideas, that's why we're all looking forward to new programmes and the return of old favourites during 2020.
Sustainability and a growing awareness of wildlife are two of the key gardening trends identified by the Royal Horticultural Society for 2020, with gardeners in a position where they can make a substantial impact regarding environmental issues.
Gardening is such a popular activity with interest only increasing over recent years that the magazine rack in your local newsagent or supermarket is packed with publications offering inspiration and practical advice.
Although the days are short and the view from our Garden Centre is dull and overcast, David Coton suggests various jobs that can be done in the garden during the month of January.