My kind of gardening
A group of lovely ladies from Crickhowell U3A Gardening Group visited our garden last September, enjoyed their visit and wanted to know more. They invited me to visit them to talk about ‘my kind of gardening’ earlier this week. As I spent a couple of happy wet, miserable and cold January days going through my back catalogue of photos and organising my thoughts I thought I would share the fruits of my labours, as it were, with a wider audience. So here goes with the very (I used 171 photos to illustrate the talk) abridged version.
I have no claim to any formal horticultural or design expertise but come from a farming background where both sets of grandparents and my parents were efficient cottage gardeners. The farming on Dad’s side of the family included market gardening, so my Fridays after school would be helping to pick peas and blackcurrants and Saturdays were helping with the sale of cauliflowers (the best and freshest and most organic – without the ‘organic’ label), turnip tops and the rest in Newport market.
This is me.
I have been gardening at Nant-y-Bedd for 34 years. We are at 1200 ft in the Black Mountains, sheltered in the valley, surrounded by mature mostly coniferous forest. Now six and a half acres of garden, meadow forest and river frontage. We have short growing seasons, temperatures generally 5 degrees below Abergavenny all year round, midges, slugs and moles. And no television. Sounds idyllic?
What ‘my kind of gardening’ is not is designed by others, manicured or low maintenance. What it is gives a lovely, fulfilling way of life which brings joy – and physical exercise. It’s self sufficient in lots of ways including use of local resources – for example wood chip, hazel and willow for weaving and pea sticks – and energy generation – micro hydro on the stream, woodland management for fuel for heating and cooking – and majors on recycling – for example re-use of copper for slug control.
It goes without saying that ‘my kind of gardening’ is organic, wildlife friendly and probably verging on the edge of permaculture (if I properly understood what that means) in places . It embraces favouring heritage varieties in the vegetable garden, the welcoming of exuberant self-seeders (yes, even in the veg garden – have you ever let your parsnips flower and go to seed?) and all under-pinned with a desire to ensure that the garden sits comfortably in its setting and has a strong ‘sense of place’. No gnomes, straight lines or bedding plants here.
But most of all my gardening has to take place somewhere which is a wonderful place to be in all seasons.
I’m trying to find a term which can describe ‘my kind of gardening’ – the best I can come up with is ‘tread lightly’ – but I happen to know that ‘tread lightly’ is the name of an organisation which promotes off-road motorcycling so that doesn’t seem quite right!
The approach is about minimal interference including welcoming ‘weeds’ is many instances – ground elder for example, which if you can’t get rid of it actually looks ok with Lysimachia ‘firecracker’, or Rose bay willowherb, which when flowering is fantastic – you just need to remember to find the time to hack it down before it goes to seed when it looks really unsightly. And is a foxglove a weed? Some would say it is when it’s in the veg patch. The most colourful bit of our garden when we opened for the NGS in July last year was one of the main vegetable growing areas where I couldn’t bear to rip out the self-sown toadflax, mimulus., ox-eye daisies, feverfew and teasels.
Of course every garden needs good infrastructure and this is where the ‘boys with their toys’ come in.
And ‘my kind of gardening’ involves creativity and curiosity and trying something new. Working with what”s there but perhaps taking a fresh look at it.
Our NGS Open days in 2015 are 10th May, 19th July and 13th September. Come and see for yourself.