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September 2020 Newsletter

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For those not on our mailing list – hint, hint!! – here are the latest info and thoughts from Nant y Bedd.

August 2020 – and Wabi-sabi

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August.

When the garden looks its fullest and lush.  Potager burgeoning with organic produce.  Fruit trees dripping with luscious fruit.  Seed-heads ripening .  Some for producing seed for sowing next year and others to feed the birds over the coming Winter.  Teasels, sweet rocket, Russian sorrel, mimulus, toadflax and more.  Dahlias, cosmos, phlox and monardas flowering their socks off and doing their thing to extend the riotous, chaotic colours of Summer into the Autumn…

Dahlias, Tagetes and Hollyhocks before the storm
Fennel and flowering chicory before…
Monarda didymus before…
Monarda Prairenacht before…
The onion beds …with ducks

2020 has been different.  2020 has been different in all sort of ways.  In the garden here the lashing rain and thrashing winds of Storm Francis dictated that the (always reluctant) Autumn ‘tidy up’ this year is happening in August,  So much for the welcoming of imperfection and enjoying the changing seasons and  dynamic natural forces at work in the garden.

The Japanese have a word for the acceptance of transience and imperfection. Wabisabi (侘寂). The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.But, in my view, there’s nothing aesthetically pleasing to the eye about bashed stuff, snapped off dahlias and teasels lying prostrate. Wabi sabi is fine in Autumn into Winter but in August?  No.  So a tidy up it has to be.

Monarda Cambridge Scarlet survived largely undamaged

Onions had been harvested and some seeds gathered before the storm.

Some of the onion crop harvested before…
Sweet rocket and honesty seed heads drying before..
The runner bean tunnel survived with only minor damage
These Heritage peas were harvested when we heard the weather forecast…

We are leaving some areas untouched for the birds, the bees and the butterflies and trying to embrace the situation as an opportunity  to do a bit of editing and some replanting.

Leaving some for the butterflies
Phlox paniculata remained upright and the leek seedheads are only slightly bent…
A bit tidy…replanting in this bed with aquilegia, sweet rocket and evening primrose

But it’s all beginning to look alarmingly neat and tidy for August in our garden.  We’ll be doing elaborate topiary and manicured lawns next…and spraying herbicide on the pea gravel drives?  No, I don’t think so.

July Newsletter

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Here, for those who don’t get our bi-monthly Newsletter delivered straight to their mailbox, is the latest blockbuster from Nant y Bedd Garden!

If you would like to get your copy direct, just drop us an e-mail to garden@nantybedd.com.

We hope you find it enjoyable and interesting and we’d love to hear from you

May Newsletter

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For those of you who are not ‘signed up’ to receiving our bi-monthly Newsletter, here is the latest issue.

To get it straight to your e-mail box, just ask!

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Perfect Compost making – and a plea

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We were due to hold one of Sue’s “excellent” (participant’s quote, not ours!) Compost Making workshops at the beginning of June, but that isn’t now going to happen due to the virus.

So we’ve made this short video to whet your appetite for some date in the future.

This is just a very quick run through of the why’s and wherefore’s of making a really wonderful compost which you can use in so many ways around the garden.

As we are also not going to be able to open for the National Garden Scheme as planned at the end of May, we are looking for ways of replacing the £1000+ that we are normally able to pass to the scheme to support such a wonderful set of health and nursing charities.

So, if you like this video, find it useful or are just wanting a way to support the NGS charities, we have set up a JustGiving page where all donations will go directly to the NGS to help make up the expected 80% shortfall in funds this year.

Please just click here (or use the QR code below) and give what you can to support health workers at Macmillan, Marie Curie, Queen’s Nursing Institute and others.  It is so important at this time.

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A quick audio preview

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Regular readers of this blog and our newsletter will recall that last Autumn Sue and the wonderful people from Candide recorded an audio tour of our lovely garden.  The tour describes about a dozen different aspects of the garden, giving some history and the whys and wherefores of the particular planting or feature.

For those of you who have visited this is a chance to relive your experience and, maybe, to have that lightbulb moment when that puzzling bit of the garden suddenly makes more sense!

For those still to visit – and we hope that won’t be too far into the future – the tour is an opportunity to understand a bit about Nant y Bedd Garden before you come along. Hopefully it will encourage you to visit!

The full tour is about 50 minutes long, but now Candide have produced this short preview to whet your appetite!  The full tour can be found by downloading the free Candide app (here’s a shortcut) to your phone or tablet, click on Places, search for Nant y Bedd, click on the audio tour, then follow the numbers on the aerial photo.   Then you can sit back and enjoy Sue’s dulcet tones in the comfort of your locked down living room.

AUDIO TOUR PREVIEW

Nant y Bedd Garden

Apologies for the little advert at the end, but this is something to do with the YouTube set-up that Candide needed to produce the clip so it would work on our site.

 

March Newsletter

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For those who are not yet on our Newsletter mailing list  – shame on you!! – here’s the recent March one.  Next one will be early May (as long as I can get Sue out of the garden long enough to write her bits).

It’s easy to get a copy direct to your e-mail box (and we promise that no-one else will get in touch with you), just e-mail garden@nantybedd.com and ask!

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A tale of many mulches

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Our latest video clip of the garden features Sue explaining the different mulches that she is using on each segment in the circular bed around the Szechuan peppercorn tree.

Keep a look out for Oreo photo-bombing in the last few frames!

January Newsletter

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We have been producing our Newsletter for just over two years now, but have to date only sent it out to our loyal band of newsletter followers.  To celebrate the new decade, we will now also post it here.  If you would prefer a copy direct to your e-mail Inbox then drop us a line at garden@nantybedd.com and we’ll add you to the list.

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… in full surround sound!!

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You’ve seen the pictures, you’ve read the blog, now you can hear all about it from the Head Gardener herself.  A wonderful new app called Candide features audio tours of many of Britain’s top gardens – so obviously they needed to include us!  You’ll have to download the (free) app, then click on Places. At the moment we seem to be first on the list, if not scroll along to find Nant-y-Bedd.   Why the woodyard photo?  That’s where the tour begins!  Listen and find out why.

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All in all there’s almost thirty minutes of insight, background and commentary across 13 different areas of the garden.  Broken into manageable chunks of no more than 4 minutes at a time, you’ll get a real feel for the garden and how Sue sees it, whether you have been here or not (and if not, why not??!).

Big thanks to Ludo at Candide for getting us into it.  We think this could be the next big thing in promoting garden visiting.

In praise of peas

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Gardens can be colourful and full of flowers OR highly productive vegetable gardens but not particularly colourful or flowery.  Right?  Actually they can be both and the humble pea is a good example of how this can be achieved.

Heritage broad beans, peas and flowers all jostling together in the Potager

Some peas as well as being tasty (one vegetable the grandchildren will eat, raw of course but that’s fine) and highly nutritious can also be a very pretty addition to the garden.  So we can grow peas because they have different coloured flowers as well as producing something edible.  By the way flowers of culinary peas are also edible – but not sweet peas which we grow for the scented flowers.  The shoots and vine tendrils of culinary peas are edible and have the same delicate, pea-like flavour. But only vegetable pea flowers can be eaten. The petals can be added to salads, or cooked slightly and sweetened for a treat.  But not sweet peas flowers – they are poisonous.

I digress.  Here, at 1200 feet in the Black Mountains, we have some challenges in what we can grow due to the shorter growing season and cooler temperatures.  Butternut squash, for example, struggles.  So it’s interesting to look around at what grows in similar conditions elsewhere in the world and also what has been grown traditionally when we were much more dependent for survival on what could actually be grown in our gardens to feed our families. It’s also satisfying and usually successful to grow crops from seeds which a neighbour has given you.

So, coming back to peas, generally they do very well here and this year we are growing a good number which fall into all the above categories.

Let me start with donated seed.  A neighbour, who is a keen veg grower, sowed some pots with Rosakrone Heritage pea but as they had all germinated had far too many so gave us a large pot full.

Checking them out, as we do these days, on the good old inter web I found this description listed with Real Seeds:

Rosakrone NEW
A very unusual heirloom from Sweden, withs beautiful red/pink flowers borne in ‘crowns’ above the foliage. 

It grows to around 4 – 5 foot tall, and looks stunning on a wigwam or peasticks for a decorative feature that also produces lots of tasty peas. Given to us by Vivi Logan, we are delighted to add this to our collection.

Here’s a photo of them this morning.  They are indeed 5 feet tall, very vigorous and the flowers are stunning. We are looking forward to an excellent crop.  The fact that they originated from Sweden and were donated to Real Seeds by a donor in Pembrokeshire is encouraging.  They should do well here.

Rosakrone flowering in the Potager

Other peas also looking good are Ezethas Krombek Blau – a pea we have grown for many years originally acquired from Chase Organic Seeds (now run by Dobies). This also has lovely flowers followed by purple pods which can be eaten as mangetout but also are fine (although not particularly sweet) if you can’t keep up with picking them and they all turn into peas.  I usually have other sweeter peas maturing at the same time so just mix the EKB in with them when cooking and they are fine.

Ezethas Krombek Blau flowering

Purple pods of EKB – edible as mangetout if eaten when flat

We also grow Norli mangetout which are really prolific and we have been picking for weeks.  These have been grown from seed which we have saved from year to year.  Just need to remember to harvest them before the birds do!  Pea and bean seeds if stored in dry conditions will remain viable and will germinate 100% for at least 3 years.  If you store them for any longer than that some will still germinate but the percentage viability tends to reduce.

Norli Mangetout

This year our maincrop peas are Early Onward and Greenshaft, both old varieties that my Dad used to grow.   Greenshaft produces longer pods packed with sweet peas – the kind that win first prize for the longest peas in the village show! Garden writer, Sally Nex says of Early Onward Pea ‘You can eat from the same pea plant all season: tender peashoots in spring, flattened pods as mangetouts shortly after, big fat peas to finish with a few to dry for winter.’

Pea shoots early in the Spring

Just a few words about how we grow peas here with our short growing season and pesky mice which would like to eat them as soon as they are sown!

We grow pea shoots in pots for ease of picking and then once they are at the stage when the shoots are getting a bit tough (after 6 or 7 pickings) we plant them out with hazel sticks to grow them on so that we can save the seeds for the following year.

We sow all other peas early in the year in guttering and then place them in the Garden room which has a little background heat.  As soon as they germinate, they are moved outside still in guttering.  This year EKB and Norli were planted out in the second week in February and the rest the last week. We use our own coppiced hazel sticks for support.

Sowing peas in guttering in the potting shed

Germinated peas moved outside to harden off before planting out – this is in February.

That all seems a long time ago now.  We have been eating pea shoots for months and mangetout for weeks.  Eagerly anticipating the beginning of the pea season.  In the meantime we will be enjoying mangtout tossed in butter and mint for supper…yum.

Mangetout, lightly steamed and tossed in minted butter…

 

 

 

 

There’s tidy!

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There’s tidy!

“There’s tidy” around here in Wales means something that has got someone’s seal of approval, for example, ‘there’s a tidy-sized marrow you’ve grown there boyo’…but in this article I’m using the word in it’s more usual sense of neat or organised.

Being too tidy in the garden at this time of year in my view, is not always desirable.  A neatly trimmed beech which holds its leaves all winter or a tidily clipped ball of cotoneaster covered in berries are a couple of tidy bits that I can live with.  But even then you have to get the timing of the clipping right or you won’t get the berries…

Sid guards the beech lollipop

Scything off wildflower meadows

Poldark takes a breather!

– or cutting by hand with my trusty Jakoti shears (yes really – the smaller areas) – are necessary to reduce the fertility and also enable us to enjoy the fresh Spring growth particularly is Spring bulbs are naturalised.

But I think we can be too tidy in our gardens.  In my tidier days I used to think that it was a great shame that people didn’t get around to picking their apples and left them on the tree. I have a friend whose children wouldn’t eat them because they had bugs in them.  But of course, blackbirds in particular love apples at this time of year.  Our Tom Putt doesn’t keep well and this year we had a big crop and so we left a couple of handfuls on the trees and the blackbirds are happily helping themselves – they don’t seem to mind the bugs.

Blackbird in an apple tree

My sister has a lovely but quite small garden. A pampas grass has rather outgrown its allotted space and slowly but surely is gradually making its way to Nant-y-Bedd.  The final ‘mother plant’ was due to be evicted this Autumn.  When sister, having cut off the magnificent plumes, parted the vegetation to attack it with her spade she found …a hedgehog happily snuggled away for its winter hibernation, so the spade went back into the shed for another go in the late Spring. I wonder if I could persuade her to let me re-home the hedgehog along with its pampas grass winter home?

But we do feel the need to ‘tidy’ the dahlias – nothing more depressing in November than a bed of frost-blackened former lovelies.

Lovely dahlia

So, once they have been frosted, we cut them down now and mulch with bracken.

We have very free draining sandy soil, so I guess that is how we get away with this method of over-wintering.  In heavier soils gardeners have the labour-intensive task of lifting, storing frost free and replanting in the Spring.   Ours survived the ravages of the winter of 2017/18 without any problem.  We do need to remember to remove the bracken as soon as any green shoots appear in the Spring because the mulch is perfect slug habitat.

We don’t weed too enthusiastically here either, as visitors will know, especially at this time of year. Bare soils in the winter mean that nutrients get leached out of the soil by the winter rains. A covering of weeds is preferable in my view to bare soil. Self-seeding foxgloves, aquilegias’ and sweet rocket, for example, are left in the veg beds to be transplanted in the Spring to where we can enjoy them flowering.

Sweet rocket and aquilegias with unpalatable-to-badgers-alliums (see below)

Hairy Bittercress and Chickweed are allowed to seed and provide winter and early Spring salads – join one of Liz Knight’s Foraging Days here to find out more about delicious weeds. Annual grasses do get weeded out and composted before they can set seed.

I’ve discovered a particularly good winter ground cover completely by accident – Limanthes douglasii (poached egg plant). It is a fantastic early flower for our pollinator friends, it stays a lovely fresh green all winter and it does a great job of supressing other weeds and locking in nutrients and self-seeds prolifically. Bargain!

Self-seeded poached egg plants and forget-me-nots – useful winter ground cover and then masses of cheerful flowers for the bees in the Spring

 

We do rake up leaves in the Autumn and store them in open leaf bins for 2 years to make a lovely friable leafmould. They do it all by themselves with no further intervention from the gardener.  Speaking to a fellow gardener recently about my joy of raking Autumn leaves, I was surprised when she said she didn’t bother, implying “what’s the point?”  I realised that she had only a few apple trees in her highly productive walled kitchen garden – so fair enough. We, on the other hand are not exactly short of trees – the raw material for such a natural and bounteous resource.

Not short of leaves – these are cherry

Some of the flower beds in the cottage garden don’t get too much tidying this time of year though. We do like to leave some of the vegetation and seed-heads to give some interest for us to enjoy through the winter whilst providing snugly-up habitat and food for wild winter visitors.  They are allowed to stay until they get bashed down by whatever the winter weather throws at them and then cut down and put on the compost heap.

 

Iris Siberica developing its Autumn colouring

 

 

Teasels are left standing in the Potager

 

We’ve tidied up the pots of summer flowering things and some are now in the greenhouse for their protection – for example lavender.  I have discovered over the years that lavender does not like over-wintering at 1200 feet in a high rainfall area.  Not surprising really for a plant that would much prefer to be growing in the sun-soaked Med rather than rain-soaked Wales.  Other pots go into the greenhouse as much for the protection of the pots as what’s in them.  I have killed off many terracotta pots over the years – even the ones that are supposed to be frost-proof.

So, we have fewer pots left outside for the Winter but tougher ones – many recycled from other uses such as galvanised water tanks or washing coppers.  We are planting most of our Spring bulbs in pots this year.  More time consuming, but hopefully it will confuse and delay our voracious local badger(s) who seem amazingly partial to a tulip bulb or sixty or failing that any hyacinths that might be about.

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Fortunately, they don’t go for naturalised snowdrops or daffodils and they tend to spit out any alliums that have the misfortune to be collateral damage.  Their noses are unbelievable, we’ve tried coating them in most things smelly and covering them with wire mesh – the bulbs not the badgers noses! – but nothing works.

 

Fortunately, the badger doesn’t like daffs

 

So, most of the hyacinths and tulips go into large pots – not always badger-proof but at least some do survive.  And rather than look at bare soil in the pot over the winter before the bulbs appear – tidier granted – here are a few things that we do for a bit of winter interest:

Iris reticulata in a ferny mossy hanging basket 6 foot off the ground in a shady spot – so we get to enjoy the ferns and mosses from the kitchen window over the winter and surely no badger could reach those?

Tulips planted among the dead seed heads of achiliea and self-seeded molinia in a heavy ‘copper’.Looking so ‘structural’ that I couldn’t bring myself to take them out.

Mexican daisy, thrift and bugle in this pot now underplanted with hyacinth Woodstock

Mexican daisy and ox-eye daisy with mallow which will be supplemented with hare’s tail grasses (in pots in the cold frame over winter) in the Spring. Lily Lady Alice in this copper too. With lots of tulips. Not much to look at now but the plants will put down good roots over the winter and when the tulips have flowered, we just remove them.

 

There’s Tidy!

 

 

There are other ways of growing vegetables

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Vegetables need to be grown evenly spaced in straight rows surrounded by bare soil. Some gardeners feel the need to lavish them with chemicals to make them grow bigger and spray them with yet more chemicals to stop pests devouring them.

Here, at Nant-y-bedd garden we don’t do any of the above and yet we still managed to win the First Prize and Challenge cup at the local Llanthony Show for the Most Productive Vegetable Garden for the second year running.

So how do we grow vegetables here?  Here’s one view of our ‘vegetable garden’…

the onion beds

There are a few basic rules that apply to any system of growing veg organically and we follow these:  get to know your soil and growing conditions and look after your soil;  rotate crops to reduce the risk of pests and diseases affecting your crops; use organically-approved methods of dealing with those pests and diseases.  None of this is particularly earth-shatteringly different.  Any gardener keen to produce tasty, fresh veg with the minimum of artificial inputs would be doing the same.

However, some of what we do here challenges devoutly-held perceptions of what constitutes good gardening practice.

Top of the list is that we ’embrace our weeds’.  We do this for a number of reasons and in a variety of ways.  Ground elder, Hogweed and Rose Bay Willowherb, for example, are undoubtedly not what you want in your veg beds because they are invasive if not controlled but the insect pollinators on which we depend love them, so we allow them to have their place around the veg beds.

Heritage bean Blue Coco in the foreground with Rose Bay Willowherb in the ‘path’

We don’t weed out self-sown seedlings just because we didn’t sow them there.  If they are not compromising the crop they can stay because the bees like them/they look pretty/they confuse the pests looking for the crops/we eat them – any or all of these reasons apply.

 

Celery inter-planted with leeks and self-sown purple toadflax

Poached egg plant self-sown providing Winter and Spring ground cover with foxglove and teasels

Onions, sorrel, hawkweed and wood spurge

We save our own seed thereby over time developing our own strains of veg which are best adapted to our growing conditions rather than buying seed from a supplier where the seed may have come from an area with very different growing conditions.

Red cabbage allowed to set seed

Munchen Bier radish grown for its edible seedpods and for seed collection

Runner bean ‘Scarlet Emperor’ grown from our own seed for many years

We do follow basic crop rotation rules but also favour inter-planting to make maximum use of the available space, look more interesting and possibly confuse the pests…

Calendula and carrots

Chard, courgettes, lettuce and chicory

We have other favourite ways of foiling pests – for example, ducks and copper for slug control and netting and collars to protect brassicas.

Ducks eat slugs. Our resident Black East Indies in the Potager

Not pretty – but effective – netting against cabbage white butterflies and felt collars

Copper rings protecting courgette plants from slugs

As well as saving our own seeds, each year we try different Heritage varieties to seek out those which might do well here.  We belong to the Heritage Seed Library.  The greatest success this year has been discovering the Climbing French Beab ‘Blue Coco’ which we have been picking all summer.  We will save the seed and grow it again but of course the weather this year has been exceptional – perfect even here at 1200 feet in the Black Mountains for growing French beans – next summer might be very different!

Heritage Climbing French bean ‘B;ue Coco’

Veg basket includes Heritage varieties Dwarf Borlotti and Crimson-flowered broad bean

Monarda and flowering celeriac in the foreground with teepees of Heritage beans Black Pod and Czar

We eat our weeds too – it’s called ‘foraging’ but that’s the subject of a future blog…

Ground elder flowering. Did you know that you can eat it?

Oh yes, and we are growing our veg the ‘no-dig’ way these days – putting a layer of compost on top of the soil to avoid disturbing the magical networks which operate in the top layers of the soil about which we know so little.  Mimicking, in effect, how ‘nature’ does it.

Perhaps I’ll add a new workshop to the Nant-y-bedd Programme for 2019 – ‘Introduction to veg growing Nant-y-bedd style’?  Let us know if you would be interested.

 

 

Gardening in the wild – the inspiration

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We’ve opened our garden to the public for a number of years now.  In 2017 we were invited to open with other gardens for the Gardens in the Wild Festival – a Herefordshire initiative – and as we’re only 3 miles as the crow flies from the border between Monmouthshire and Herefordshire (although we are in fact in Powys) it seemed to be a good idea.  After all ‘gardening in the wild’ is what we do here…

Gardens in the Wild Festival

Good.  But this prompted me to start thinking about what exactly is it I mean by ‘gardening in the wild’.  Well, we all know what gardening is, don’t we?

what is ‘gardening’?

A definition I like goes like this ‘traditional gardening is a means by which we attempt to control plants and get them to do what we want’. This comes from a very inspiring book called “Cultivating Chaos’ which, unsurprisingly takes a bit of a different view on the matter.

Cultivating Chaos – a different take on gardening

So, if instead of trying to hard to control plants we allow them to do a bit of their own thing, is that ‘wild gardening’?  So is ‘mind-your-own- business’ romping away in my greenhouse un-tended by the hand of the gardener ‘wild gardening’?

‘mind-your-own-business’ going ‘wild’

Or do the plants have to be ‘wild’?  Helpfully some people, cleverer than me, have also been thinking about this question of the Wild Garden.  William Robinson, in his book on the subject in 1870, came up with a definition ‘placing plants of other countries as hardy as our hardiest wildflowers in places where they will flourish without further care or cost’  Sounds helpful.  But, of course, in those uncomplicated times they also dug up wildflowers to plant in their gardens and give to friends, and spread seeds from the windows of trains…

William Robinson’ had a few things to say on the subject

I rather like some of the things that Noel Kingsbury has to say in his introduction to the afore-mentioned ‘Cultivating Chaos’.  He talks of  ’embracing plants that self-seed is part of becoming a manager of nature rather than a controller’.  ‘Gardening is now much more about an accepting of spontaneity. Dynamic change and chance play important roles in this process, as do the choice of plants and the willingness to work with forces that are outside our control’.

Also in this book (which, you may already have gathered, I find rather inspiring) I came across a gardener by the name of Henk Gerritsen.  So I bought his book “Essay on Gardening’.

Henk Gerritsen’s ‘Essay on gardening’ – recommended reading

(Dear reader – please note how cleverly I photographed the cover of hawkweed and knapweed growing in a grassy sward against my own grassy sward including hawkweed and knapweed – under the washing line in fact!)

Piet Ouldolf wrote the foreword. Here’s a quote from that:

(Henk’s) way of gardening certainly contributed to my abandoning those strict rules about what was and wasn’t allowed.  During our discussions…about what an ideal garden should look like, matters were raised that were rarely discussed in books.  We talked about spontaneity (that word again), about which plants would fit into our image of an ideal garden:  they had to be plants that visitors would think had simply walked out of nature but which also knew how to behave… dead plants weren’t ugly either… we thought that seeds and seedheads were fantastic and they were beneficial to the birds and other inhabitants of the garden.  After all these years, our idea of a perfect garden is exactly the opposite of the traditional idea, the maintenance of which required pulling our all the stops.’

This book is ‘an appeal to think about our relationship with nature and about how we give our gardens something of this nature’.

So, my inspiration about Wild Gardening comes from books?  Well, no, not really.  The greatest inspiration is what nature herself gets up to without a hand of a gardener in sight. Hera are a few examples from the garden here at Nant-y-bedd.

Rose bay willow herb and pendulous rush in the woodyard

Swathes of beautiful and pollinator-friendly ground elder in the Potager

 

Ground elder again with oriental poppies and alliums in the cottage garden

 

Buttercup, Herb Robert and speedwell on the riverbank

And this is how Nature did foxgloves in the forest near our garden in 2016

Nature doing it’s thing big time

So the foxglove example is a useful one to remind us to look at Nature for our inspiration.  Foxgloves germinate with ease in my garden in bare soil in the onion beds once the onions have been harvested. It’s a great way to create a stock bed of healthy plants to transplant elsewhere in the garden.  Some are allowed to stay along with linaria, parsnip and ox-eye daisies much to the concern of some ‘tidy’ garden visitors.  We still managed to win the Challenge Cup for “most productive Vegetable Garden’ at the Llanthony Show last year.

Foxgloves et al in the onion beds

And then, of course, there are wild ‘styles’ of gardening which don’t necessarily feature wild or native plants, not to mention the benefits to wildlife of this approach…

If you are interested enough to want to find out more about how we do ‘Wild Gardening’ here at Nant-y-bedd Garden you might consider booking onto the workshop I’m running here on the 24th September 2018.

 

Starting the new garden year – on video!

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We were very lucky last week to have a wonderful documentary film-maker staying with us. By some sort of serendipity she phoned us looking for somewhere to stay in the area whilst she did some film editing and looked at a property she was interested in.  So we offered her the use of the garden room in return for making a short video for us.

Sophie Windsor Clive, for that is her name, has done a super job, despite having only one day when the weather wasn’t dull, windy, rainy, snowy and what ever else the elements could throw spanners into the works. Thanks Sophie!!

It is, of course, a view of the garden that most people wouldn’t see – the garden in January.  This is an important time in the gardening cycle.  The work done now sets the tone for the rest of the year.

We hope this insight will arouse your interest in visiting us later in the year.

Just click on the arrow button and enjoy!

A week off, much-needed rain and busy bees

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Taking a week’s holiday at the end of April really focuses the mind of a gardener.

You have to be up to speed before you go, leave the garden in a state that requires minimum attention whilst you’re away, and pray for rain so that all the plants you have sitting in pots awaiting your return to be planted out don’t need watering twice daily. No hosepipes or sprinklers here – extensive rainwater harvesting systems, dipping tanks and galvanised watering cans are the preferred method for keeping plants alive in prolonged dry spells.

I pretty much got away with it but haven’t stopped for breath since I got back! Much-needed rain today means being driven indoors and an opportunity to share some photos of the garden over the last month.

My highly dynamic but also high maintenance approach to allowing self-seeding throughout the garden has produced a lovely show this month in the Potager. Honesty and forget-me-nots, which have been left to over-winter, have been a joy.

Honesty and forget-me-nots in the Potager

And the show in the Potager continues with sweet rocket, aquilegias and alliums taking over.

Alliums, Sweet Rocket and Aquilegia

Sweet peas were successfully Autumn-sown, over-wintered in cold frames and planted out and are showing the first flowers. We make new hazel domes for them every year from our own coppiced hazel rods.

The over-wintered field beans have produced masses of flowers, Heritage variety Crimson flowered broad beans and Aquadulce Claudia have been planted out from an indoor Spring sowing and are also flowering well.

Field Beans

Peas (Early Onward, heritage variety Robinson, Ezethas Krombek Blau (a purple flowered, purple podded variety) and Greenshaft and Sugar Ann sugar snap were all started in guttering and then planted out. All are looking great. I’m particularly pleased with the combination of the flowering peas and over-wintered Phacelia – a brilliant bee plant which I planted as winter ground cover and then moved plants around in the bed to allow for the rows of peas to be slipped in from the guttering. Hoping for a good crop of peas.

Phacelia and heritage Pea Robinson flowers

The runner bean tunnel made from hazel last year has been repaired and beans planted out at the end of May. We had an excellent crop last year and saved our own seed – Scarlet Emperor, Czar (a climbing selling bean) and heritage variety Black Pod.

We have just eaten the last of the over-wintered, and aptly named, Maystar cauliflowers!

Cauliflower Maystar

Onions have been planted. I’ve made the first batch of liquid comfrey manure this year. Compost heaps have been turned. Squashes, pumpkins, courgettes and cucumbers have been sown in the propagator.

Onion beds

The tulips in pots have finished flowering now and have been replaced with (grown from mostly saved seed) Hare’s tails and Giant Quaking grasses, Californian poppies, cosmos, dianthus, tobacco plants, etc. Some pots had bugle and Anthriscus sylvestris Ravenswing planted amongst the tulips and those have stayed with the new summer plantings.

Glorious Welsh poppies continue to pop up all over the place and look so cheerful adding a splash of orange or yellow where often you wouldn’t have thought to put it. And somehow it never looks wrong – to my eye anyway.

Welsh poppies

The cotton grass planted in the regeneration zone of the swimming pond last year has flowered for the first time and we have enjoyed our first swim of the year (well Ian has).

Sailing with cotton grass

Salvias, agapanthus, lavenders and dahlias have all been moved out of the greenhouses for the summer. The dahlias which were left in the ground to over-winter have been rescued from under their bracken mulch. Each year most survive but they are always slower to get away that the new ones which have been in pots in the greenhouse. I pretend that it’s a deliberate successional planting…

Whilst we await for all these to flower, we are enjoying these irises and the oriental poppies which are just coming into flower – along with the ground elder!.

Irises

Poppy (with ground elder)

This time of the gardening year can sometimes feel overwhelming. Relaxing for a while and watching the busy bees at work is useful therapy and reminds me who is actually in charge in this garden…

Bee on chive flowers

Bee on Allium

Did you know?

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Did you know that 7 – 13th May 2017 is International Compost Awareness Week?  Neither did I.

We are pretty much aware of the importance of compost to the garden at any week of the year but here are some of the compost highlights here at Nant-y-bedd garden this week…

When adding material – weeds, mostly dandelions from the paths – but see below on that one – and lawn mowings – to the current compost heap I disturbed a pair of slowworms mating.  Nearly all all compost heaps are home to slowworms – which is very good news as they are brilliant at munching slugs – and I have a photo buried somewhere in my non-digital archive to prove it.

slowworms mating in one of our compost heaps

We have lots of compost heaps – it’s a big garden so we need them to process ‘waste’ materials from the garden and kitchen into a yummy, nutritious resource to feed our plants.  Every gardener will have his or her favourite way of making compost with special tips on how to get best results.  Our methods are still being honed after nearly 40 years but there are a couple of crucial things to adhere to, in our experience:

Firstly the heap must be bulky enough to generate heat, which speeds up the process of decomposition.  We also keep  our heaps covered at all times with duvets (yes, really) made from wool from our sheep – again to keep the heat in. For a detailed description of our duvets and how they raise the temperature, you might want to see our previous blog by clicking here

Having a good mix of material to hand during the process of building the heap is always a good idea.  I don’t put too much dry material (dead stalks of herbaceous material from the Spring tidy-up, for example) on at once put leave a separate pile to be added with the Spring’s first lawn-mowings.

Kitchen waste, including egg-shells and tea bags, also gets added weekly – but no meat, fish or bones as this may attract unwanted rodents.

Adding weeds to the compost bin

When the compost bin is full I like to get in there with a muck fork and give it a good mix – ideally if practicable turning the whole heap into an adjacent empty bin.  The whole thing then gets covered and the decomposition magic does it’s thing and a couple of months later (depending on the time of year) there’s a fantastic compost to use in the garden – at no cost!

Caroline loading up the wheelbarrow with compost earlier this Spring

Today I checked under the fleece to see whether the potatoes are doing anything – and they are.  Four varieties this year – Sharp’s Express – a first early that my Dad always grew, International Kidney – which are Jersey Royals except you can’t call them that unless they are grown in Jersey, Charlotte – which are our favourites for a salady-tasting main-crop which stores well until the Spring, and Remarka – which is, in my humble opinion, the best for jacket potatoes. Remarka are my own seed saved from last year as I have been unable to buy them from seed potatoes suppliers for the last couple of years.

First earlies and main-crop potatoes under fleece in the potager

So what has all this about potatoes got to do with compost, you may be wondering?  Well this year we are trialling the ‘NO DIG” approach to veg growing as advocated by the great no-dig guru Charles Dowding.  So we have put the compost on top of the soil and planted the potatoes in that layer instead of laboriously digging trenches, filling with compost, planting potatoes and then back-filling (we aren’t getting any younger..)  We shall see…

Charlotte potatoes planted in compost (and photo-bombing Oreo)

Yesterday I planted out the first of the brassicas – Purple Sprouting Broccoli (PSB to the initiated), Calabrese Waltham (which is a new variety for us, but as we discovered the fantastic garden at Waltham Place last summer I felt I had to try it – even if there is no connection) , Theyer Heritage Kale (we are members of the Heritage Seed Library and grow different  Heritage varieties every year) and Redbor and Pentland Brig Kale (both our own seed).  Again the compost connection is ‘no dig’.  I covered the bed with compost some weeks ago and planted the brassicas into this layer.  The whole bed is covered with black plastic netting to protect from the very pretty cabbage white butterflies which are welcome to feed on sacrificial cabbagey things elsewhere in the garden.

Brassicas planted ‘no-dig’ style in compost

Another experiment this year is exploring whether composted wood-chip can provide a good growing medium.  We are pretty much dependent on wood for heating the house and cooking so when producing firewood from our forest we also generate a lot of wood chip from the brash (branches which are too small for firewood).  We use this on paths throughout the garden but we have lots.  We also use lots of potting compost and rather than buying in expensive stuff from garden centres it makes more sense to make our own.  We have, for many years made our own potting medium with a mix of  garden soil (often molehills), leaf mould, garden compost and sometimes Moorland Gold which is peat (shock, horror!) which is a by-product of the water industry – where it is filtered out  where there is serious peat run-off caused by erosion into reservoirs.

So the experiment is to see whether we can grow potatoes successfully in a mix of composted (i.e. left in a heap in the forest for a couple of years) wood-chip and my own garden compost.  We’ve put this in a large container in full sun in the woodyard where we can keep an eye on it – and even water it if necessary (I think moisture-retention might be an issue with the wood-chip) as it’s next to one of our rainwater harvesting barrels.

International Kidney potatoes planted in composted wood-chip and home-made garden compost mix

By the end of this Compost Awareness Week I hope to have turned the compost heap which we finished building a couple of weeks ago and also hope to have emptied another bin (the other half of the one where we photographed the slow worms) by mulching the rest of the soft fruit bushes – have been waiting for it to rain before doing that.

Oh …and back to dandelions, mentioned earlier – don’t put them all on the compost heap – they are magnets for bees and butterflies and other pollinating beasties..

Red admiral butterfly on our dandelions

Happy composting!

Our woodland management plan

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We do have a woodland management plan for our 3.5 acres of forest which, as those who have visited know, is a very special part of the mix of habitats and experiences that our garden has to offer.  The problem is that aforementioned management plan is in my head…

So having been invited to host a visit on the 18th June for members of the Small Woods Association is an excellent prompt for me to commit it to paper.  It will also have the benefit that Ian and I will have, hopefully, a common understanding of what it is we want to achieve with our bit of forest and how we are going to do it!

The intention has always been to write a management plan since we first bought the ex-Christmas tree plantation adjoining our garden 4 years ago.  However, actually doing the management (and gardening) tends to fully occupy the time that would otherwise be available for writing the plan..

We have been gardening here with trees and amongst trees for nearly 40 years and now over the past 4 years, managing the adjoining 3.5 acres of conifer woodland, opening up the canopy, allowing natural regeneration to occur and light to be cast upon the hazel

Part of the hazel coppice

and willow coppice and garden. The forest provides firewood, construction timber (for example for the natural swimming pond), coppice products, foraging opportunities, woodchip for compost making and paths and biodiversity and public access (on days when the garden is open to the public).

So without further procrastination here are a few photos (in no particular order of priority) of work in progress/challenges to be sorted/success stories so far which will inform the issues to be addressed in THE PLAN.

First issue to be addressed was fencing the area to keep out the semi-feral forest sheep and immediately, instead of having bare ground and conifer needles, we now already have, in the Spring, swathes of wood sorrel

Wood sorrel makes a come-back

cowslips,

Cowslips

golden saxifrage,

Golden saxifrage

bluebells, wild raspberries, flowering currant

Early Flowering Currant

and lots of natural regeneration including cherry, holly, ash (all desirable) but also bramble

Bramble

sycamore and Western Hemlock

Western Hemlock – a weed!

which are not so desirable – more detail and explanation in THE PLAN.

Letting in more light is a key to managing what we have – mostly Norway Spruce planted as Christmas trees before I came here – nearly 40 years ago – and having received no management during that time.  The trees are now  70-80 feet tall (some bigger).  There are 2 stands of magnificent Douglas Fir

Magnificent Douglas Fir and a little Elm

which are even taller.  Having acquired a felling licence to fell 5 of them to provide timber for the construction of our natural swimming pond we know that they are even bigger – some were 150 feet tall.  These need a bit more than Ian and his chainsaw.

Matthew Corran in his office

There are also a few Sitka Spruce and Grand Fir, a couple of mature Ash and a huge Sycamore

Potential for a tree house

(in which this Summer we will be building a tree house for our grandson).  So another project to be flagged up in THE PLAN is to check out exactly what we do have in terms of species and label them so that visitors are able to appreciate that they are not all ‘fir trees’.

Not content with what we have we are also planting new….

.. Christmas trees..

..and…

..oak trees – in a fairy ring

Firewood – lots of it – we are not exactly ‘off grid’ but we heat the house and cook and boil the kettle on wood.

Firewood production -part 2

Coppice products for the garden – the usual pea sticks

pea sticks

wood chip for paths etc.

Future path

Biodiversity – standing dead wood

Fallen dead wood

and eco-piles

What’s living in here?

for the bugs and beasties and woodpeckers and badgers…

Introducing other stuff like wild garlic,

Wild garlic competing with wild raspberry

watercress and other species of elder with longer flowering periods.

Foraging – we hosted a fungi foraging day in Autumn 2016 and now know a little bit more about what we have and what is edible.

Turkey tails

Puffballs

The moss garden.  In January and February through into March mosses come into their own.

Lovely mosses

Cherishing what we have and protecting from invasion by other species such as grass and adding to the diversity is a project in itself in one special area in particular underneath the big sycamore next to the stream.

Fixed point photography.  We have noticed big changes already as we have fenced the area and started thinning out the trees to let in more light.  We must record these changes.  We are very good at doing stuff and taking a photo after.  We are not so good at doing the ‘before’ photos and recording what’s happened in response to our intervention.

And of course

Cedric, the seed king

Then just outside the forest, along the river bank we have vistas such as these

Swathes of wild daffodil

and

Our ‘borrowed’ waterfall

Watch this space.  We will have THE PLAN before the 18th June.

The Garden Year

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At the turn of the year there’s a tendency to look forward to the new gardening season and reflect on the past years – what’s worked, what didn’t and why, and so on.  So I’ve spent a happy hour or so whilst it was too wet and windy for even me to venture out, going back through our past catalogue of photos, attempting to select ones which reflect what’s looking good in the garden at different times of the year.

The pictures range across the years, but are as relevant today as when they were taken.  I’ll be adding new ones as time goes on, but these will give you a good idea of what to expect when you visit.

So starting with January here goes:

snow in January 2013

snow in January 2013

This is the time of year when the structure of the garden is all important – looking out of the office window in January at the moss-covered dry stone walls with ferns along the top, the tall straight clean stems of the huge conifers (we have brashed them up as high as we can go to let more light in and also enjoy their majesty), and the rope suspension bridge across the raging stream, leading to the natural swimming pond and the view down the valley.

mossy dry stone walls

mossy dry stone walls

rope bridge today

rope bridge today

We’re told that it’s a good idea – visually and for wildlife – to be not too enthusiastic cutting down vegetation in the autumn – but that’s ok until we get high winds which knock everything flat and/or break things off.  At the moment I need to do a rescue job on a willow arch which I hadn’t got around to trimming – it’s been whipped into angles of about 45% rather than up-right.  Some things we do leave though – like teasels – until they too are blown over and have to go.

teasels February 2010

teasels February 2010

One of the first real signs of Spring in our garden is the sight of the Hellebore flowers starting to appear in January and February amongst  the detritus of last year .  I must get out there are cut off the old leaves and remove fallen leaves and twigs so that I can enjoy the flowers without a guilt trip every time I walk through that part of the garden.

Hellebores February 2012

Hellebores February 2012

Hellebores are followed by snowdrops and crocuses naturalised under fruit trees and then daffs and narcissus, hyacinths and then tulips.  Some were here when I arrived 36 years ago and I have added more each year. Daffs seem to be quite happy and get better each year, tulips I have always to replenish annually.

crocuses and snowdrops

crocuses and snowdrops

February is also the time of year with much activity in the wildlife pond and the natural swimming pond – it will be interesting this year to see if the toads return to the swimming pond – they seem to prefer the deeper water and attach their spawn – long strings of it – to the yellow flags at the edge of the pond.

frogs February 2009

frogs February 2009

March sees me well underway with starting off veg in the propagator and greenhouse for planting out later.

Peas in guttering March 2010

Peas and mangetout in guttering March 2010

When we’re into April the spring bulbs really get going with putting on a show.

Daffs under Jedda's tree

Daffs under Jedda’s tree

Rhubarb and hyacinths 2011

Rhubarb and hyacinths April 2011

I like mixing flowers into the veg beds – Ian and I don’t agree on this one!

tulips and hyacinths April 2011

tulips and hyacinths April 2011

More tulips…

tulips April 2011

tulips April 2011

and more..

Red Appledoorn tulips

Red Appledoorn tulips

and more..

tulips and Rodgersia

tulips and Rodgersia

and yet more…

tulips in pots on the terrace

tuilips in pots on the terrace

and yet more as we move into May

tulips with alliums

tupips with alliums

I like tulips.

I always plant a selection of my favourite tulips from the earliest to the latest to enjoy a long season.  Last year I experimented with some varieties that are supposed to be more perennial than others I grow – which need replenishing every year – and also naturalising some in grass.  We shall see whether they escaped the attentions of the badger which we had visiting regularly last year.

June is when the veg garden starts to get going.

broad beans June 2011

Crimson-flowered broad beans June 2011

onions and hops

Onions and hops

And the ferns on the stream bank are lovely at this time when they are a fresh bright green.

ferns June 2010

ferns June 2010

July is possibly my favourite time in this garden – so no surprise that this is when we will open for the National Garden Scheme in 2017.

courgettes and parsnip flowers

courgettes and parsnip flowers

teasels and toadflax

teasels and toadflax in the potager

alliums and grasses

alliums and grasses

across the lawn

across the lawn in the cottage garden

lillies

lilies

And in August the show continues.

lilies on the terrace

lilies on the terrace

Into September when we, along with the butterflies, are enjoying the flowers and the fruits of our labours, whilst moving onto the next crops like over-wintering salad.

butterflies on sedum

speckled wood and small tortoiseshell butterflies on the sedum

sedum etc

sedum, verbena bon and veronicastrum in the cottage garden

sedum and Mum's fuchsia

sedum and Mum’s fuchsia

winter salads

winter salads – mibuna, mizuna, mustards, rocket September 2009

In October we are harvesting pumpkins and enjoying the autumn flowers.

pumpkins

pumpkins October 2010

dahlias

dahlias October 2012

rudbeckia etc

Rudbeckia and Montbretia next to the wildlife pond October 2010

grass etc

Jardin de Plume (that’s where I bought it) grass 

wildlife pond

wildlife pond

November is continuing to harvest…

apples

trug of our apples Tom Putt and Howgate Wonder

a carrot and kale in the kitchen

a carrot and kale in the kitchen

December might bring more snow to close the year…

molinia

Molinia December 2010

So, what is the best time to visit our garden?  Well it depends on what you like, but we think that there is usually something which is worth looking at and enjoying at any time of the year.  But we would say that wouldn’t we?

Bringing the garden indoors

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Bringing foliage, berries, cones and seed heads indoors from the forest and garden is a tradition which sometimes gets forgotten amidst the flashing, multi-coloured lights, revolving (revolting?) Santas, talking reindeer and other “bling” which so-called Garden Centres seem to wish upon us.

Not at Nant-y-Bedd.

Seasonal seed head - allium

Seasonal seed head – allium

I like to trim our own holly trees just before Christmas to provide sprigs for a traditional holly wreath – cotoneaster berries this year as the birds have stripped the holly before I got there.

Trimmed holly

Trimmed holly

Poor postman, can't find the letterbox!

Poor postman, can’t find the letterbox!

The trimmings from the bottom of the (Grand Fir or Noble Fir, as they don’t drop their needles) Christmas Tree get recycled into a swag which hangs above the mirror in the sitting room.

Raw material for the swag

Raw material for the swag

Starting the production

Starting the production

Nearly there

Nearly there

Finished article

Finished article

And I always select a lichen and moss covered twig from Jeddah’s tree (so-called because my dog is buried beneath it), a Field Maple, to hang over the fireplace.

All lichen and moss

Seed heads are allowed to stand over winter in the garden to provide some structure and interest, as well as sustenance for the birds.  Some get bashed down by the wind, rain and snow and are harvested for both seed and for indoor decoration.

Some gardeners feel the need to adorn their Christmas windowsills with early flowering spring bulbs – narcissus Paperwhite and Hyacinths –  but I prefer to leave that until the short, dark days of January, when I’m glad to be reminded that Spring isn’t far away.

Windowsill display

Windowsill display

Christmas for me is enjoying candlelight and crackling log fires with the cedar / pine aroma of a real Christmas tree.

Add to that home-made tree decorations and it is more “hygge” than “bling”.

Home-made

Home-made

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