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Ian’s Review of the Year – Part 1

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Well, everyone else seems to be doing it – there’s no ‘news’ in the newspapers at the moment – so I thought I’d treat you to some bits of 2018 that stood out for me.  There’ll be a Part 2 coming hot on the heels of this one – 12 months all together is OK for ‘Fleet Street’ but they have a lot more brains than me (i.e. more people, not necessarily …..)

My initial thoughts, given the Winter we experienced  – Beast from the East etc. – was that the year dawned under several inches of snow. But the camera never lies, and the weather for a few weeks at least was OK. Definitely chilly, but no snow to report in the whole of January.

We had a guest for a week, documentary maker Sophie Windsor Clive, who was in the area looking at houses and offered us a  bespoke video in return for somewhere to stay for a week.  The resulting film can be seen here.  Not really the best time to see the garden, but Sophie managed to capture the essentials of the way in which Sue (and I) manage Nant y Bedd – and there’s a great shot of Sid Vicious giving his, rather odd, morning cock-crow!

It was just about warm enough for the paint to dry on the metalwork of a six-foot bench repair in the middle of the month and, apparently the first snowdrop showed its colours on the 19th.

First of the year

The benign weather didn’t last long.  On 9th February the snow returned, but not quite as bad as pre-Christmas.  We managed to pollard the London Planes, which incidentally seemed to take forever to show any new signs of life.

On Valentine’s Day, it was lovely to look out of the dining room window and watch the birds nibbling away at the apple on the ‘heart’ – how appropriate.

Valentine’s Day birdie

By 19th Feb the  frogs were doing what frogs do in the swimming pond.  Hundreds of them! A seething mass of bodies, some of which appeared to have taken things a bit far, and had to be dredged out (dead, but still embracing) some days later!

Frogs….

I’d been nagged for a while to make the River Walk path a bit flatter and this was achieved, with admittedly not too much effort, a week later.  The weather was so nice!

Path construction

Beautiful blue skies, but exceedingly cold as days led into March, the snow again – DEEP snow – in the first week of the month.  I even got the cross-country skis out.

Snow … again!!

You’l have read about our tulip-eating badgers before, but this week one of them really ‘takes the biscuit’. In the pig shed there was still a good quantity of straw bedding, and one of the little blighters decided that this was a lovely place to have a mid-foraging kip and a wash & brush-up. We monitored it for a few nights and then it obviously decided to undertake its ablutions elsewhere.

Quick wash and brush up before tulip hunting

Anyway we were going off for a few days holiday, weren’t we?  Well, no!  the day of departure dawned to even more snow that we’d seen all winter. Snowed in!!  Fortunately the Landmark Trust housekeeper couldn’t get to the property to clean it either, so eventually we had to abandon, and get our money back (we eventually got there in November).

Go back to the photos and the daffodils were in full flower just a week later. Ain’t Nature a wonderful thing?

Spring is sprung

Oh, yes! all this snow and rain meant a bumper few months on the hydro.

Fortunately that was the end of the snow & ice and when the first lambs were born on 5th April it was warm and sunny and dry.

Pixie and Lottie

We were just about recovering from all this late snow when we had a recce visit from Susie from the RHS Partner Garden team.  Amazingly she realised the potential among all the brown, and we heard later that we will be a Partner Garden from the New Year – no pressure then!

By the middle of the month the pond was bubbling with millions of tadpoles.  All around the edge was a heaving mass of wriggling tails.  This attracted the newts and for the next few months any attempt at swimming was accompanied by an escort of at least 3 or 4.

Tadpoles .. millions of them

As April progressed, so did the garden.  Green shoots everywhere and spring flowers competing to be the most spectacular.

The night-time wildlife cameras picked up another ‘visitor’. In the cat/wood shed the cat’s food seemed to be disappearing more quickly than normal. The camera pointed the finger – a couple of hedgehogs – newly woken from hibernation – were availing themselves of a bit of free nosh before venturing out into the big, wide world.  Smudge was interested but rather wary!

Hmm, you look a bit prickly to eat!

May was a busy month, as the wood sorrel carpeted the ‘forest’.  A rare piece of collaborative work saw the runner bean arch demolished and re-built with new hazel.

Hazel arches

Then the wonderful Liz Knight was brightening our lives with the first of her foraging courses in the garden – keep a look out on the website and newsletter for the dates of her foraging days for 2019, they are well worth it.  It’s amazing what Liz finds in the most unlikely places.

Liz is so enthusiatic

A little later in the month, Sue ran the first of her Compost Making masterclasses.  It was fully booked and another one had to be slotted in at short notice to cater for the extra people.  As with Liz’s workshops, Sue will be organising a number of days this coming year on, amongst others Compost and Wild Gardening.  There’ll also be, later in the year a day on making Christmas Holly Wreaths following a number of request after we posted ours on Instagram a few weeks ago!

How to make the crumbly brown gold….

At the end of May, Sue had left me in charge for a week while she took a well earned break looking at gardens in Ireland, and it struck me that we have a LOT of plants in pots that need watering very regularly.  I tried counting but my poor little brain gave up. So when she decided to revamp the small bed between the lawn and the bridge I took the opportunity to count the pots used – 86!

Bill and Ben and lots of their friends

In mid June we had the wonderful privilege of watching about a dozen or more dragonflies emerging from their pupal cases.  Fascinating and almost unbelievable.

from ugly bug to graceful flier

By the end of the month – and what a scorcher it was – there was produce aplenty for the kitchen and for flower displays. Oh, yes, and the strawberries were loving the dry heat!

food, glorious food!

So this takes us to the end of the first part of the year.  The second part of this blog will cover our opening period and on to the end of 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harvest time

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The hot weather at the start of the summer has definitely had a big effect on many of our crops.  Without going into the usual veggies, spuds

onions

beans, beans, beans ….   we have had maybe our best ever returns from a number of different sources.

Let’s start with the less well known.  The Sichuan Peppercorn tree has yielded six spice jars worth of dried peppercorns, three times more than the last good crop.  This might not sound a lot, and in purely monetary terms is only about £15 worth – but ours are organic and come from a happy tree! Very fiddly to pick and even more fiddly to separate the husks from the seeds (it’s the husks we need) the resultant spicy stir-fries make it all worth while.

Sichuan on the left

In the greenhouse, I’ve just picked 30lb of white grapes which have yielded 2 gallons of pure juice

and it looks as though the black ones

will yield at least double that, so there’s going to be a few bottles of wine in the racks in the not too distant future.

Outside, I’ve collected about 240 pounds of our Tom Putt apples , most of which is now either casked up as cider

 or in the freezer as pure apple juice.

Staying on the ‘booze’ front, the Fuggles and Goldings hops overwhelmed me this year.  It takes a lot of hop flowers to make any weight at all.

Hops on the right

One needs about 4oz of dried hops for a five gallon brew of beer.  To get 4oz dried needs around 30oz of fresh hops. Doesn’t sound a lot?  30oz fills a full sized carrier bag to almost overflowing – that’s a lot of hop flowers!  Two brews are already drinking nicely and there’s enough dried and frozen for the rest of the year!

And now it’s time to ‘harvest’ some firewood!

It’s all go at Nant y Bedd!

Courses and Events 2018

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This year, in addition to the usual garden openings, we are offering a number of courses and events led by Sue and by Liz Knight of Forage Fine Foods.

Click on the underlined bits below for more information and see some more pics about compost making in earlier posts under the Courses & Events button above.

Current dates are:

12th September  Compost Making with Sue   £45 per head

Making a Compost Windrow

28th August   Foraging with Liz   £65 per head

Liz talking birch sap and ox-eye daisies

24th September    Wild Gardening with Sue

Exuberant mix of teasels, sweet peas, linaria and phlox in the potager garden

Booking essential.  Lunch included on all courses.

… including foraged foods

For more details on all of these please e-mail us on garden@nantybedd.com

Keep an eye open on this page as other days may well be added.

June is busting out all over

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Well, it’s certainly all happening down at the pond.  The wildlife are almost taking over. After the millions of tadpoles came the newts, popping up to the surface for a breath of air then diving back down.  There seem to be more great diving beetles this year including some smaller ones which I take to be babies, or more probably something altogether different.

Then a couple of weeks ago we started to see the damselflies, red ones and blue ones. Firstly singly then more recently coupled together as they lay their eggs around the marginal plants.

But the great delight has been over the past few days as I was able to witness the amazing metamorphosis of the scary looking nymphs into that most beautiful of flying machines, the dragonfly.

These early ones are Southern Hawkers.  Later on we’ll get Gold Ringed and the magnificent Emperor, which ‘patrols’ around the pond, checking out who’s daring to swim in their territory!

So back to the Hawkers.  The first thing to see are the nymphs waiting in the water for the right time to clamber out and up an iris leaf.  We make sure there are always sufficient tall stems for them – leaving last year’s flower spikes on the purple loosestrife for instance.

Once up the leaf they somehow cling on and start to dry out in the sun.

Now the magic really starts, firstly a thin white line appears on the back of the nymph and the head and eyes force their way through the narrow opening.

First glimpse of the green head

Once the head is out, the body starts to emerge ….

A bit more comes into view

…slowly, very slowly, the body sort of wriggles its way further into view.

On the way

Almost done

Then in the blink of an eye it flips up and grabs hold of the now empty nymph case – just missed that bit with the camera!

Wings emerge

At last it looks a bit like a dragonfly.

It takes a while for the wings to fully dry out and fill their final shape

wings still folded

Apparently this is the last time those wings will be in that position.

Then a final ‘battery charging’ with wings fully extended…

Ready for take off

..and it’s gone.  leaving behind just the empty case.

All done!

A fantastic experience and one which could easily be missed.  Fortunately they emerged across three of four days so I was forewarned when the later ones were due and was poised with the camera.

I’ll be keeping an eye open for any further larva cases in the hope of seeing an Emperor emerge.

What a wonderful wildlife pond! It pays to work with nature.

You can eat that??

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With apologies to our regular followers and newsletter subscribers, here’s Lucy Gaze’s report on the recent foraging day at Nant y Bedd, plus a little snippet from Liz’s blog.

 

Friday 18th May saw the first of 3 foraging days at Nantybedd, with the lovely and extremely knowledgeable Liz Knight of Foragefinefoods.

Liz waxing lyrical about Ground Elder

The day dawned bright and sunny and 6 guests (plus Sue!) turned up to a delightful treat of homemade nettle muffins with raspberry icing and topped with bird cherry blossom to fire them up for a 2 hour forage around the garden.

Nettle muffins – not at all stingy

We started in the potager, which fortunately Sue had left a couple of weeds in – for the purpose of this event of course! We sampled that ‘beast’ ground elder, discovering it was an excellent substitute for salad leaves, ate the aniseed flavoured flowers of sweet cicely and chewed on dock stems which were distinctly like rhubarb. We also sampled hairy bitter cress, a dead ringer for rocket and honesty seeds – hot and spicy! Liz provided a detailed and fascinating account of each plant with historical uses and key pointers to identification.

Rapt attention – noteboks and pencils at the ready

Stopping at Sue’s beautiful display of potted tulips, we made the surprising discovery that the petals are edible – and delicious, tasting rather like apples!

A second use for tulips

Crossing over to the house, we found other delights – sweet woodruff, which we picked to flavor our cocktails and pudding, along with apple blossom that had the fragrancy of rose petals. As we wandered along, Liz collected plants for our lunch and we continued to sample these strange delights that also included cultivated plants not usually known for their culinary delights – such as hosta leaves and sedum!

many hands ….

Basket full, we set up camp beside the wild pond, lit a fire and were then treated to a veritable feast – a rainbow salad of petals and leaves that we had collected, together with a potato salad and delicious home made vegetable frittata. Liz also sautéed hogweed, hosta and the shoots of hops and willowherb which tasted incredible! Washed down with a fruit cocktail infused with pine needles, lemon balm and fruit blossom and finished with a sweet woodruff flavoured milk pudding with pine syrup it was the perfect end to a fascinating and most enjoyable day.

Hosta, hop shoots and willowherb

All there is to say is thank you so much for a really memorable experience and can I come to the next one please??!

Sweet Woodruff flavoured pud, with pine sauce!

 

…and from Liz’s Instagram ”  … the ridiculously gorgeous Nantybedd Garden.  It’s a magical forest garden in the depths of the hills. …  Does Eden exist?  I think so, see the magic for yourselves”

Words by Lucy Gaze;  Pics by Lucy and Toni Greaves; compliment by Liz!

 

 

New newsletter

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A bit of a teaser, particularly given the recent stuff about GDPR.

You may have seen that we produce a bi-monthly newsletter, and the May issue has just been sent out to those who have requested it.

If you would like to get a regular copy, or even just see if you like this one, drop us an e-mail to garden@nantybedd.com and a copy will come winging your way.

I’ve been told it’s a “good read”!

Beans, beans, beans

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‘Twas a strange day in the Nant-y-Bedd garden today.  We were working together! It was, albeit a bit later than usual due to the inclement weather, the time to construct this year’s bean tunnel.

A lot of ‘harvesting’ of hazel rods had been going on recently and in order to get the cars out of the yard, something had to be done.

The Runner Bean tunnel is widely admired by our visitors, but they only usually see it covered in beans.  So here you can see the skeleton and the amount of work that goes into it.

First the sticks have to be cut and brought into the potager.

Just some of the hazel sticks

Each stick needs to be fairly straight and without branches in the wrong place, otherwise they tend to break as they are bent.

Then the framework starts to take form.

the first few hoops

From here on it’s a case of getting matching pairs of hazel rods and tying them in to the the top ‘stretcher’.

adding more hoops

It is very much a two person job, pushing the rods into the soil, bending them over at the right height and then tying them into the arch position; one under, one over the stretcher.

teamwork!

Eventually we have 25 rods each side, giving 50 planting positions for the plants.

To make it more secure, and with the winds we have had in some summers this is essential, we run a further sideways set of rods to keep everything in just the right place.

Pretty much finished

By the time you visit you’ll hardly be able to see the frame for the green beans hanging down.

A tunnel of ?????

The beans are nearly ready to be planted out, and then they will be climbing faster than you can believe. Come and see for yourself.

Oh yes! the string to pull it all together is natural sisal baling twine – none of your plastic stuff!

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