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!.


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



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


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..


..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


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


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



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 October 2010


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…


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 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”.



Stringing the onions and other seasonal tasks

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We had some lovely garden visitors today who were very interested in my method of stringing up the crop of onions to store them for use over the winter – so here’s how…

I’ve been using this method since coming across it in John Seymour’s book (the organic gardening guru of the 1970’s)  entitled the Self-sufficient Gardener, dated 1978 – how time flies when you’re enjoying your garden.

The finished strings look like this:

2016 strings of onions in the kitchen

2016 strings of onions in the kitchen

This is how to do it.  Knot together the ends of a 3 foot length of string (depending on how big a bunch you want to make) and hang the loop from a hook.  I find that the Sheila Maid clothes airer which is above our wood-burning cooker is perfect for this.

onion strings hanging from the Sheila Maid clothes airer

onion strings hanging from the Sheila Maid clothes airer

Weave the dried stem of the first onion through the loop and then add the second onion, weaving it in and out of the string.  The weaving must be tight and the second onion should finally rest on the first.  One by one add onions, weaving first to the left and then to the right.

Adding more onions

Adding more onions

Strung in this way, and hang up in our kitchen, our onions usually last us through the winter.  Needless to say, they must be thoroughly dried before stringing.  Ours have been on the windowsills since they were harvested to ensure they were properly dry.  They store best if they have a good couple of days baking in the sun after they have finished growing.  It wasn’t that sort of summer this year.

Now that the windowsills are onion-less and we’ve had the first light frosts, it’s time to harvest the pumpkins and squashes, so that they can finish ripening indoors.  Just about plural – 6 pumpkins and 2 squashes.

Pumpkins and squashes on the windowsill now

Pumpkins and squashes on the windowsill now

Varieties this year are Tom Fox – nearly always reliable even in a cool summer like this one – from seed saved in 2015.

Pumpkin Tom Fox

Pumpkin Tom Fox

Squash Crown Prince – again from saved seed.

Squash Crown Prince

Squash Crown Prince

And squash Turk’s Turban which I haven’t grown before and was hiding under a leaf so I didn’t know it was there until we had a frost.  We’ve already eaten this one in a lovely mixed root vegetable roast with lots of herbs and fennel and cumin seed.

Turk's Turban squash

Turk’s Turban squash

I find that pumpkins and squashes keep perfectly well on a windowsill – just need to keep an eye on them and as soon as they show signs of going soft then they need to be made into delicious pumpkin soup and/or chunked up and put in the freezer.

Other seasonal tasks have included raking up autumn leaves to make gorgeous friable leafmould to add to potting mixes or use as a mulch (despite dire warnings from Special Plants Nursery guru Derry Watkins).

raking up autumn leaves

We have 2 sets of 2 leafmould bins in different parts of the garden.  This year’s leaves won’t be used for at least a year.  One set of bins takes mostly sycamore which breaks down quickly, whilst another takes beech and oak, which take longer.  The leaves need air and weather so the bins are open and made of chicken mesh, whereas the compost bins shown here (which take weeds, lawn mowings, straw and muck from ducks and chickens, kitchen waste such as outside leaves of cabbages, carrot tops etc – but nothing cooked – are wooden and always covered.

Some people (non-organic gardeners particularly) might think I have a sad life but I love making compost and leafmould.  It’s very satisfying turning a ‘waste’ product into a resource.  Might run workshops on the subject next year…

But I have also had a bonfire – there are some things you don’t want in your compost heap.



We all know that it’s important to move the material from where it’s been sitting awaiting the right time to burn it, to another place.  The photo above shows bare soil in the foreground where the material had been moved from.  I disturbed a frog and a slowworm which I moved elsewhere, where they can happily feast on our multitude of slugs.



Started harvesting the celery.  Terrific crop this year – probably because I spent all summer carrying cans of water to it from our extensive rain-water harvesting system.  Even though the summer has been cool we’ve had very little rain for months and celery, and celeriac, really prefer to have their feet wet.  Makes lovely celery soup.  Yum.

Yummy celery soup

Yummy celery soup

Thinking ahead to Christmas, I have been collecting and drying cones for use in Christmas holly wreaths.

baskets of Sitka spruce cones

baskets of Sitka spruce cones

And then there’s planting Spring bulbs.  We are about half way through.  Planting lots in pots this year because we appear to have a resident badger which visits nightly and likes eating them.

baskets of Spring bulbs still to be planted

baskets of Spring bulbs still to be planted


Summer success stories and (yet more) jam

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Driven indoors by a sudden and dramatic thunderstorm, I am now making jam – a satisfying September-during-a-thunderstorm kind of activity.  I should mention that jam-making is taking place on a wood-fuelled cooker so no worries about power cuts affecting the process.

Plum jam this time.  This follows successful batches of blackcurrant and blackcurrant-and-worcesterberry when those crops were harvested several weeks ago.  I never make strawberry jam:  it seems a crime not to eat them fresh (or give to friends and relatives) even though at full production we can pick up to 8- 10 lbs a day.  I seldom make raspberry jam for the same reason – although I will say that my raspberry jam is rather good.

Jam-making today, however, is less about being an efficient grower and preserver of our own produce and more about recently finding last year’s plums still lurking in one of the freezers and it is there they still lurk.  The jam is being made with this year’s gatherings.

So, fruit crops so far this summer have generally been a success, including the best crop of raspberries we have had for some years.

The summer here at an altitude of 1200′ in the Black Mountains has been cool and dry.  I spent weeks in July and August carrying water from various collecting tanks and barrels to precious things in pots and newly-planted out summer crops.

rainwater harvesting in various up-cycled baths and barrels

rainwater harvesting in various up-cycled baths and barrels

In spite of keeping things alive by watering, the low temperatures meant that some half-hardies such as Cosmos and Nicotiana never really got going.  However, not to dwell on the failures but to celebrate the successes…

Brassicas have done well – particularly broccoli and Red Winter kale (from seed I saved 2 years ago) which we have been harvesting for weeks.  Some excellent looking cabbages are also growing well.

Broccoli in the kitchen

Broccoli in the kitchen

Garlic and onions were not quite as good as last year – but last year’s were exceptionally good – all now harvested, dried off on windowsills and awaiting plaiting to be hung up in the kitchen.  As we are still using last year’s garlic I think all recipes in the foreseeable future need to be heavily laced with garlic…

2016 garlic and onion crop drying in the woodyard

2016 garlic and onion crop drying in the woodyard

I always grow several varieties of garlic on the basis that if one doesn’t perform others might.  This year Provence Wight by far outshone the others so I may just stick with that next year.  Will be buying as soon as they are in stock locally to be planted out next month.

I wasn’t expecting much from the potatoes this year because of the dry summer.  The earlies, International Kidney, were not brilliant.  However, the Remarkas, which I grow as a baking potato, when lifted today have done well.  The Charlottes are still in the ground as rain stopped play today.

Broad beans, peas and mangetout were good and runner beans are cropping well.  Spinach and chard are good and have just started using the main crop carrots. And a new lettuce mix I tried this year has cropped for weeks and still going strong.

Asolo lettuce mix

Asolo lettuce mix

The pumpkins and squashes have finally got going and several fruits have set so if the frosts hold off for another month or so we should get a crop of both.

Pumpkin Tom Fox, Squashes Turks Turban and Crown Prince

Pumpkin Tom Fox, Squashes Turks Turban and Crown Prince

The surprise success this year in the potager has been Munchen Bier radish.  I have grown this as a winter-use radish on and off over a number of years but hadn’t realised that the seed pods are edible – excellent when young and green in salads.  The chaffinches also thought they were tasty but fortunately I had harvested enough seed to sow next year before they devoured the lot.

Munchen Bier radish seed pods

Munchen Bier radish seed pods

In the floral line particular successes in later summer have been:

un-named clematis

un-named clematis

An un-named (note to self – must do better at labelling) clematis romping over a mound of cotoneaster in the cottage garden has been flowering for months.

lovely sweet peas

lovely sweet peas

The sweet peas were lovely, now finished.  We’ve removed them but kept the hazel domes for some structure in the winter garden.

lovely poppies

lovely poppies

poppies co-ordinating with the tree spinach

poppies co-ordinating with the tree spinach and cosmos

Lovely poppies popping up amongst the veggies in the potager seem to colour co-ordinate themselves beautifully with their bed-mates.

asters with cosmos

asters with cosmos

We trialled asters in the cutting garden this year.  They have provided some lovely much-needed late colour.  Will definitely include them next year. And the Monardas have been great in the cottage garden.

Monarda in the cottage garden

Monarda in the cottage garden

And I spotted the first flowers on the harebells I’ve been trying to establish on a dry grassy bank in the cottage garden.

Harebells flowering in the grass

Harebells flowering in the grass

Success with scything rather than strimming:


heaps of scythings adjacent to the potager

heaps of scythings adjacent to the potager

More successes with up-cycling things – my favourite this summer was 3 roof lights (thank you builder friend Gavin) turned into mini cold frames.

up-cycled mini cold frame

up-cycled mini cold frame

Success with our natural swimming pond – this summer it has been crystal clear with no sign of algae just pond skaters and water-boatmen, the Emperor dragonfly and the occasional Mabberley.


morning sunlight on the swimming pond

morning sunlight on the swimming pond

Our new map of the garden painted by Caroline has proved a great success with our visitors – seen here at the entrance to the potager and used for a garden guide which visitors use to navigate their way around the 6.5 acres.


The entrance to the potager

The entrance to the potager

Visitors have also appreciated the tea room.  One visitor wrote in our ‘comments’ book:

‘what a wonder!  Could live in the tea house!!! So many beautiful spaces in and out.’


the 'tea house'

the ‘tea house’

Perhaps we should start selling cream teas with home made jam in the ‘tea house’?  But that would mean more time spent in the kitchen and not in the garden…

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