Gardening is not just a hobby for me, and it’s not just a career. It’s my absolute passion, and every single day I Grow Inspired by the magic that happens in the soil. Read on to hear my tips, insights and upcoming events and please feel free to add your comments – I love to hear what you think!
This month, it’s important to focus on soil regeneration and how the planting of legumes helps fix nitrogen to your soil.
Why do I need to fix nitrogen to my soil?
Nitrogen is an essential nutrient that plants need to grow. During a season of growth, plants will be consuming this nutrient so, at the end of the season, you need to replace it ahead of your next crop.
What will fix nitrogen to my soil?
Peas, beans, broad beans, buckwheat, lupins, vetch, and clover all fix nitrogen to the soil and are sometimes grown as cover crops or green manure crops in over-wintering beds.
The legume family contain symbiotic bacteria called rhizobia in the nodes of their root system. These produce nitrogen that helps the plants to grow and also helps them to compete with other plants. When the plant is spent, the fixed nitrogen is then released into the soil. It makes this essential nutrient available to follow-on plantings, along with nearby plants, and helps to fertilise the soil.
We could get really technical here however, sticking true to my principles of keeping it simple, I will explain only the basics to you the average gardener.
How does it work – what do I need to know?
Legumes release organic compounds from their roots which attract rhizobia to them. The rhizobia is attracted to the root hairs of your plants and the hairs curl around the rhizobia to create a pathway to travel into the root cells.
Rhizobia is an important bacteria in the soil that has the ability to make the nitrogen that is in our atmosphere available to our plants. In exchange for the nitrogen, the plant provides carbohydrates to the bacteria. They form nodules attached to the roots of your legumes.
The nitrogen fixing bacteria can also help to increase the soil fertility for all plants. This is why it is so good to do your crop rotation with any of the above plants. After harvest, you can leave your roots in the soil and, when they break down, they provide nitrogen to the next crop.
Nitrogen top tip #1:
If you pull your plants out, be sure to cut off the roots and dig back in otherwise you will lose all the valuable nitrogen from these plants.
Nitrogen top tip #2:
It is always good to interplant with other crops – even in between rows – as this will help keep your soil restored of nitrogen and enable you to have a healthy garden without your plants stressing out.
Nitrogen top tip #3:
Please remember that all legumes also like plentiful supplies of phosphorus and calcium, which can be added with the addition of lime, rock phosphate or gypsum. So if your crop didn’t do so well last year, take these factors into account before your late spring / summer sowing.
As the daylight hours start to get longer, it is good to get one of these crops in before summer planting.
As citrus are ripening now and over the next few months, I thought it would be a great idea to talk about a few of the pests associated with these plants, and most importantly, what you can do to protect your citrus from them.
Enemy number one: Scale
Scale are sap sucking insects that are found on the leaves and branches of your citrus trees. If your tree is looking unhealthy, inspect the branches for ants climbing up and down your tree. This can be a sign of scale, as they secrete sugar which attracts the ants.
There are different types of scale, from the hard shelled brown ones to the soft white ones.
Scale insects attach themselves to the leaves or stems of your citrus and start to suck away at your plant. They excrete honeydew that is attractive to ants, which in turn creates sooty mould. When your plant is infested with scale, the leaves usually turn yellow. Also if you have cracks in your bark, scale can live in these, which are quite hard to see. It pays to examine your tree thoroughly.
If scale is left unchecked, your tree could become very weak and unhealthy.
Remedy number one: Fight scale organically
To treat scale, spray with a good oil. I use EnSpray 99, as I have had great success with this. Spray the infected areas and this will suffocate the scale and cause the scale to die. When you touch it, it will fall off the tree or you can rub off with a cloth. Repeat spraying if the infestation is bad. This year, I have found scale on many, many plants – even natives – so it is not really specific to tree varieties.
Enemy number two: Borer
How do you know if your citrus tree has borer?
The tree will lack vigour and have holes along the branches. In some cases, you will even be able to see mounds of sawdust.
Remedy number two: How to remove borer
Borer grubs are dormant for the next couple of months, so it is an ideal time to cut out and remove any borer. This is your time to act! Really, when it is dormant is the only time to cut it out, otherwise the grub will lay egg on new cuts and then they will bore into the new growth of your tree.
It is SO IMPORTANT to remember to either burn or dispose of your infected branches. The totally organic way of dealing with borer is to insert a G string from a guitar down the hole to pierce the grub, however this could take some time (and patience!). At Grow Inspired, we typically use a squirt of CRC down the hole, as this smothers the grub and causes it to die, without harming the trees. Following this, apply pruning paste over the holes or wounds to protect them from further infestation.
Last year, I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to see three borer grubs and I was shocked to see the size of them. Fat and juicy, and half the thickness of my pinky finger!!!
Borer can kill citrus trees if left untreated. Also you can keep your tree alive by removing the dead wood and keeping an eye on your tree, looking for new sawdust trails. Over the past year, I have had a client lose a huge branch from their lemon tree due to borer, where the wood was completely eaten through.
Take action and save your trees.
If you inherit land with an old lemon tree full of borer, you might well be wise to invest in a new one in case the old one is not able to be brought back to life.
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I thought this month we would talk about gardening in #isolation. I have enjoyed being at home in peace with my garden and nature. Gardening at this time of year offers its own charms and challenges, but doing so in isolation offers an opportunity to us to get creative.
I’m delighted to see that many new people have started to grow food and start bokashi since isolation hit our countries. Of course, during a time when shops have been shut, the common cry has been: “Ahh but I have no potting mix, seed raising mix or plants!”
But did you know that there are many ways you can grow plants without any of the above?
Lockdown or not, I always recommend that seeds are the best way to grow your plants, as you never know what you will get from the garden centres (which can sometimes include an unwanted friend or two) or what the seedlings were grown in.
To source my soil during isolation, I have been foraging in the edges of the bush and found plenty of useable bush soil underneath the leaves.
The key is that whatever you sow in needs to be kept moist for your seeds to germinate.
Top tip: I usually sow, water and cover them either with a paper towel or cardboard. This really does the trick to speed along the germination of seeds.
If you are a person like me that lets your plants go to seed, as they are from organic seed, then you will observe that they literally pop up in the strangest of places. Rocket, lettuce, calendula, mizuna will all come up in the cracks of concrete, in path ways and even around the garden!
The key here is identification in the 2 leaf stage, so you don’t pull them out in error.
So, what should you be doing now to prepare for your winter garden?
As we are in the first quarter of the moon, it is time to get your garlic and shallot beds ready and also to think about cleaning up and repositioning your strawberries. I hardly ever replace my strawberry plants. If they have runners, I will cut those off and replant; clean the strawberries up and give them what they need for winter. I transplant my strawberries to a new bed every three or so years.
To me, winter gardening is far less labour-intensive than summer gardening and there are definitely less pests to deal with. Plus there is the added bonus of less intense heat that your plants can really benefit from.
What do I recommend you should plant now for winter?
This phase of the moon is the best time to sow broad beans and green manure crops to cover your soil that will rest and rejuvenate over winter, ahead of next summer. Even if you dislike broad beans, they are such a tonic for the soil and appreciate a side dressing of potash from your fire.
For me, this will be my last sowing of flowers for spring and of winter crops, as in June, everything slows dramatically due to the reduced daylight hours. Also, at this time it is good to get your beneficial flowers going to bring in the good insects for spring/summer and create a more diverse culture for your garden to enable all aspects of nature to work together. Eventually when the balance is right, the good insects will eat the bad and you will create a harmony that your garden will really benefit from.
Top tip: Over the next couple of weeks, get your above ground seeds in and then after the full moon, plant your carrots, Florence fennel, radish etc.
I also like to sow quick turnaround crops while I am waiting for the broccoli and cauliflower to mature. Great quick turnaround crops for this time of year are rocket, Chinese greens, Pak and Bok choi, radish and micro greens. These all mature in about 14-30 days so you can eat fresh from your garden while other plants are growing.
Happy #isogardening !
Anyone who knows me or reads my blogs will know that one of my fundamental philosophies is that anyone can grow a garden……
All we need is already there in our back yard, balconies or even inside our houses! That and a MINDSET!
We are now living in very interesting times and the way you choose to think is important.
How many of you were prepared before the panic set in?
How many of you panic-bought?
Please don’t think you have missed the boat for your garden, as autumn/winter sowing and planting has just begun.
Growing food is an essential part of living now. It has been an essential part of my life since I was a young girl. My grandparents grew food for their families which was a lifeline during the war, as a garden was how you survived and fed everyone.
For those of you in a panic about your winter or summer garden, the home life couldn’t have come at a better time with the seasons. Autumn is here and it is the perfect time for growing winter sustenance and in the Northern Hemisphere, Spring is upon you.
How can I set up my garden?
If you are starting from scratch, look at what resources you have at home.
Collect all your brown leaves into a pile, pull the grass out and put it in a separate pile, keep your lawn clippings separate too. There you go – you have the start of a club sandwich garden. How easy was that!
What shall I plant?
With the moon rising now, is the time to sow seed/plants that grow above the ground.
Lettuce, Rocket, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Spinach, Kale, Micros, Mesculun, Silverbeet, Herbs and flowers, land cress to name a few.
Kings Seeds is still open and you can order what you need online – I highly recommend them for quality and service!
Below is a chart to give you a little insight into what your plants require of you. I suggest digging in your bokashi or compost in preparation for planting some of the above plants and give it a good water, sticking your finger in the soil to check that it is wetter than the surface looks.
How do I take care of my plants?
My top tip is to soak in EM (effective microorganisms) or worm juice prior to transplanting.
When transplanted, I recommend to water or spray with kelp or worm juice and then feed every two weeks with EM and Kelp.
If you are growing broad beans, a side dressing of potash will be beneficial through the growing season.
Mulch when big enough – this will protect from soil splash from the rain.
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How dry is your garden?
Over the past few weeks, I have visited many food gardens on Waiheke and in the Coromandel to discover that most of them have suffered or been pulled out due to the drought, and the lack of water-holding capacity in the soil.
Water is the new gold.
It is the essence of life and is essential in growing food. The reason that a lot of our soils dry out is because our soils are depleted and abused. The soil sponge has disappeared which in turn means our soils have no water-holding capacity. Therefore, what water we do receive is not able to be fully absorbed into our soils and just runs off.
Soil and the soil sponge are the key to holding valuable water in our soils, which will then become available to our plants in times of drought and be there for the roots to take up to produce our very valuable food.
How can I improve my soil to create a better soil sponge?
The most effective and quick way to start improving your soil sponge for the home gardener is bokashi composting.
I like to call it ‘Bokashi Gold’ as it is the gold all our soils require and it is also a great circular way to process your food scraps from seed to soil – to plate to bokashi compost – to soil…
Bokashi is so much kinder to the environment than any other type of composting.
It is an anerobic fermentation process that keeps all the goodies and energy in the organic material.
It holds higher nutrient and energy levels than traditional composting due to the much lower heat that is generated – bokashi is around 40 degrees and traditional and hot composting are 60 and above.
In this process, when food scraps are put in the bucket, they are inoculated with EMAS (expanded EM), which is either in a liquid or inoculated bran. This makes the organic material more digestible to the soil – providing a greater soil sponge – as it holds much more moisture in the soil and helps your plants grow quickly to maturity.
By adding bokashi to your soil, you will be saving on your plants watering-needs, thus giving you a much healthier soil.
In a nutshell, bokashi can increase the water retention of soil, improve drought tolerance, provide humus, prevent the growth of weeds, boost crop yields and reduce the need for fertiliser and chemicals.
The time is now…… Improve your soil, absorb more moisture, create healthy plants and do your bit for the planet.. BOKASHI is GOLD for your soil!
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The Guava Moth
With Guava moth rife in many gardens, I recently shared a very good article on my Facebook page on this pest. Discover it here, as it offers a really good description of this moth and how to handle it and the life cycle of the moth.
Personally, I have found it to be less on the plums this year and, from reading the article, it seems that one of the worst hosts for this bug is the Loquat tree, so be mindful of this if you have some growing near other fruit trees.
For more helpful hints on how to tackle the rampant guava moth, see one of my earlier blogs here.
Woolly aphids, black aphids and scale
The pests that seem rife in my part of the country are woolly aphids, scale and black aphids. The citrus trees seem to be inundated by these and are slowly sucking the life out of the trees.
Recently I visited a garden that had all three of these pests of the one tree!
Trying to wipe out these pests requires a continuing commitment. Some of you may be thinking ‘just give them a spray and that is the end of it’. This is not necessarily true. An oil spray is good to smother the bugs and their eggs and to release the scale from the stems and the leaves. However, remember that they don’t just drop off – you will need to wipe the tree to remove these pests and to find out which ones are still attached.
Continue to spray on a regular basis – spray the air first, then underneath the leaves and up and down the trunk. If the scale don’t slide off, they are still alive and ants are attracted to their sugar secretion.
Make sure your plants have enough moisture in the soil and are healthy, with enough food. This in turn will aid for a quick recovery in your plants. The reason for spraying the air first is to catch the whitefly that will immediately fly upwards with any movement of the plants or leaves. If you are on tank water like me I have found the best thing is to catch the shower water and use this on your fruit trees and vegetable plants. Remember healthy soil is the key.
How to protect your plants
Using Bokashi in the soil helps retain moisture and gives your plants plenty of food. Remember to side dress your tomatoes with potash and to keep feeding your plants with the banana skin recipe I shared in a recent blog.
I tend to not plant anything more in the garden at this time of year, as it will struggle to get a good start with the intense heat we are getting at the moment. If you live in an area where there have been low temperatures and extreme wind and rain, your vegetable garden could be late in producing fruit due to climatic conditions.
Nip the growing points off the tops of your tomatoes to help the fruit to ripen and to stop the energy going into the growing points – this can also be a great thing to do for your pumpkins and melons. Once you have enough fruit, count up two growing sections of the plant and nip the growing point off. This will transfer the energy into growing and ripening the fruit on these plants.
Be vigilant of your plants and check regularly – this way, you will spot pests and disease early and if your plants are beyond help, pull them out and dispose of them so as to prevent these diseases spreading elsewhere.
I have received many questions on the subject of scale over the past few weeks – it appears that they’re out in force in your gardens and it’s certainly that time of year! So I wanted to address them in a practical blog post, arming you with the organic tools you need to do battle!
There are many different types of scale affecting many different varieties of plants. Scale insects feed on a wide variety of plants and can be specific to particular host plants or groups of plants.
Scale are sap-sucking insects which in turn means they are sucking all the nutrients out of your plants. In some bad infestations, this can actually cause the death of a plant.
Scale seem to thrive in dry, warm environments when the plants are particularly vulnerable. They are generally found under the leaves and on the stem of plants. A good sign you have scale is the presence of ants going up and down your plant collecting the honeydew secretions. These secretions in turn encourage the growth of sooty mould, which is a black fungus that can prevent the plant from photosynthesising properly.
Scale insects can infect nearby plants, so early control is advised. There are numerous types of scale – from soft shell to hard shell scale. The harder shell is harder to control. If you have only a few scale, these can be picked off by hand and squished.
I’m also pleased to share with you my homemade recipes for scale – using organic and natural methods to control this pest:
1. Mix 2 tablespoons of oil with 5 litres of water and spray on infected areas. This will smother the scale and then it can easily be wiped off.
2. If you have a fungus present, add 2 tablespoons of baking soda to the oil spray and shake well and spray on the plants.
3. I use EnSpray 99 oil for my insect problems, which I can happily send you if required.
With all homemade sprays, I would advise doing a test patch first to make sure there are no adverse reactions from your plants.
The biggest trick up my organic sleeve is prevention.
When your plants are at optimal health, they will not get affected by scale.
Did you know that insects sense vibrations? Rather than looking at your plants and thinking ‘mmm, they look tasty’, they instead feel the vibration of your plant to determine whether it is healthy or not.
If your plant is struggling, weak or diseased, it will have a much lower frequency vibration than a plant that has great health and a strong cell structure. When insects feel the lower vibration, they will target that plant – they are attracted to the lower vibration. Nature always preys on the weak – it is nature’s way.
Therefore, my top tips for organic scale prevention is to look after your soil, feed your plants, give them regular water and they will really benefit from a good thick layer of mulch, especially over the summer months.
Here’s hoping you all had a restful few days holiday over the festive season.
I thought this week we would talk about something simple and fun to do for your garden while you have a few days of relaxation.
I want to share with you the value of banana skins and how these are a great resource for your garden, especially this time of year.
Fascinating facts about banana skins
Did you know that the skins we peel off of our bananas and discard contain such valuable nutrients for your garden? They can create a tonic that is great for all kinds of plants – I have even used it on my plants indoors.
Banana fact #1
Banana skins have a high concentration of phosphorus, which is actually becoming scarce around the world, but is a vital fuel for our growing plants. Plants rely on phosphorus for fast growth and healthy roots. This nutrient also aids germination and strengthens fruit production.
Banana fact #2
Skins are loaded with potassium, which strengthen the cell walls of your fruit and help promote healthy development of roots and stronger plant stems.
Banana fact #3
Banana skins also contain magnesium and calcium, both of which are important in the healthy development of all your garden plants. Calcium helps to make nutrients accessible to the plants from the soil.
For your reference, banana skins do not contain nitrogen, so if your soil needs nitrogen, you will need to add this with an alternative source. Check out a previous blog on this here.
Try my recipe to make a banana skin compost tea
Fill ¾ of a largish jar with water, cover with a lid and place in the fridge. Every time you eat a banana, put the skin in the water and keep doing this until your jar is full. After it has sat for a week, strain off the liquid into a clean jar and keep your skins to one side. Then start a new jar in the fridge.
Dilution for application: Mix one cup of banana skin compost tea into four litres of water. Apply at the base of your plants and watch them come to life. They are especially beneficial to tomatoes, capsicum and chillis.
If you so feel inclined and really want to be a zero waster then you can pop your peels in the dehydrator or low oven for about 8 hours then whizz them up in the blender and add to the base of your seedlings when pricking them out in the garden to give them a great start in life.
Banana fact #4
Did you know banana skins are so clever, they can even be used to combat pests and disease? Banana skins are very effective when hung on the branches of your peach trees to repel curly leaf. I am also currently trialling the tea on a big aphid problem I’m tackling at the moment, and I read in a book somewhere that aphids really dislike the smell of bananas, so I’ll let you know how it goes!
For an aphid spray, ration 5 parts water to 1 part compost tea with a few drops of oil to help it stick. I might increase it after a week, but at the moment, I am doing a month’s trial on this dilution.
Have fun with your banana skins! Become a zero waste gardener!
Thanks for your many questions on mulching the garden – you have been asking what to use and, most importantly, what is safe to use out there.
To me, mulch is so important in the summer months as it helps retain the moisture in the soil and keep plant roots from drying out, enabling them to go deeper into the soil to get their moisture. The question these days is what mulch is safe to use, with the heavy use of pesticides on crops.
I can personally recommend the following four sources of mulch:
Leaf mulch is a layer of either shredded leaves or leaves that have been collected from a previous season and allowed to partly break down. These will enrich your soil in many ways.
Seagrass – If you are lucky, like me, and live near a beach that dumps this on your shores, it is a fantastic free source of mulch. I’m not sure where the name seagrass came from, but it looks very much like fresh cut grass clippings in appearance. Seagrass has hardly any nitrogen content but is full of minerals and especially high in boron, which is great for olive trees.
Organic straw seems to be a hard mulch to get hold of these days, so when it is available I buy 5 or 6 bales, which will last me the season. Organic straw can be expensive however, if you compare it to the bags of pea straw available in the shops, it is actually extremely good value as the quantity of a bale is 10 times more than a bag of pea straw.
Home grown beans or peas – I usually let all these plants go to seed and die off in my garden and then I break down all the stems etc. and mulch around my plants.
Why should I bother to mulch?
Mulch is such an important part of gardening as it protects the soil from drying out; it keeps the roots of your plants cool in the hot summer months and protects them from soil splashes when the rain is heavy. It also keeps the weeds down – bonuses all round!
Top tip: One thing to remember is not to mulch right up to the stem. It is advisable to leave a space around the stem of each plant – otherwise you can suffocate the air flow and create a great environment for breeding pest and disease. This is also a great space to water your plants directly in the early hours of the morning.
Remember your fruit trees too – mulch can protect them from the dreaded weed-eater nicking the trunk and also to keep their roots cool, especially surface feeder roots like lemons and citrus trees.
My advice when buying mulch would be to only buy organic. Ask yourself what the pea straw has likely been sprayed with, considering commercial peas are prone to a lot of diseases. Fungacides are used, the dreaded Roundup is used between the rows and they are probably grown from chemically treated seed!!
Your garden deserves better and so do you!
There is so much carbon around so collect it up – leaves, seagrass and dried grass are great around the plants and will help keep the soil cool.
Happy Summer Solstice and happy gardening!
This week I want to share with you the magical medicinal properties of Calendula Officinalis. Last week, we learned culinary, beneficial and sacrificial properties of Calendula. If you missed this blog, check it out here.
In my opinion, Calendula is one of the most medicinal flowers that grows easily in your garden. From this magic flower, you can make creams, balms, oils, washes, gels, compresses and tinctures.
It is antiviral, antibacterial, antimicrobial, antispasmodic and an antioxidant. Phew! It is gentle enough to use on babies right through to the elderly.
I have been using the petals in a medicinal way for over 25 years and I want to share with you some of the wonderful applications I have found for this miraculous flower.
How do I use Calendula for skin conditions?
The reason I started making Calendula oil and cream was because, when I first landed in NZ all those years ago, I was eaten alive by mosquitos and sand flies. The Calendula cream took away the itch and healed the scars caused by scratching. I found it was also a wonderful healer for sunburnt skin. Here began my love affair with Calendula!
When my daughter was a young baby, I would use the cream to heal nappy rash and for cracked skin and grazes. I would also make an eyewash to help expel conjunctivitis from her eyes.
Calendula will heal cuts, scrapes, burns, cracks, sores, eczema, dry skin and it is a great moisturiser when applied on the body before bed – just apply on hands, legs and face.
As a gardener with my hands in the soil most days and constantly out in the harshness of all weathers, I find my hands can get very dry and cracked. I am not one to usually wear gloves either, so I’m a real test case!
After my daily shower, I lather myself in the cream, covering my cuts and scratches from the day’s work, and my dry hands and legs too, and in the morning, my skin is totally restored like magic.
It is a great solution for skin inflammation. It helps new tissue grow to aid the rapid healing of wounds on the skin, and it increases blood flow and oxygen to wounds. Further testimonials from my elderly clients endorse its amazing properties for healing their skin, especially scars left from having skin cancers removed.
Calendula is a great addition to your first aid kit in a domestic kitchen, helping to heal burns and knife wounds. The only thing I wouldn’t recommend Calendula for is to use it on an infected wound, as it could heal the skin over the infection before it has been resolved.
How do I use Calendula for internal conditions?
Calendula petals can be used to make a fantastic tea, which can help reduce gastric ulcer symptoms, cramps and help with hot flushes. I wanted to share my recipe with you for calendula tea, so that you can enjoy some of this potent flower’s magic too.
Recipe: Calendula Tea – AVOID IF PREGNANT
Put 1-2 tablespoons of dried calendula flowers in a mug and pour over hot water, cover with a saucer and steep for 15 -20 minutes then sip slowly.
Seven ways to use Calendula tea
I have found that Calendula tea can be used for the following symptoms:
- Mouth rinse for inflamed gums or thrush
- Use for inflamed skin conditions – pour over the skin and use as a face wash, including acne and pimple outbreaks
- Great for itchy eyes – use as an eye wash
- Conjunctivitus – also use as an eye wash
- Can help in a foot bath for fungal infections
- Great as a hair rinse to relieve itchy scalp
- Apply to your animals if they have itchy skin or rashes
I am well known for my Calendula cream – I have spent many years perfecting my extraction to create a cream that I see time and time again really works.
I have just released my next batch, and I always create a limited amount, so if you are keen to purchase some, I recommend you order now through my website!
I hope that you too get growing Calendula in your gardens and give it a try. Please let me know how you get on – I love to hear your feedback!
Until next time – happy gardening!
Pricing: Grow Inspired Organic Calendula Cream – 28g, $15.00
“I had been trying a pharmacy-recommended cream for a rash and getting no results, so I went to my faithful jar of Claire’s Calendula cream. Result? Improvement in two days! After a full time career and years of working outside, Claire’s own use of her cream is a testament in itself. Throw out your old creams, and use this all purpose wonder cream!”
MARION BRIDGE, CALENDULA CREAM CUSTOMER
“I have always had great skin, but suddenly I broke out all around my nose and mouth with a severe kind of eczema. I tried everything I could think of – nothing worked. It lasted for months without improvement and really affected my confidence. Someone suggested I try Claire’s Calendula cream. I put it on each night, and within just a few days, it had disappeared. Amazing!”