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The power of water

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Continuing our current video posts (or should that be vlogs?), here’s a little snippet of one part of our river, before and after Storm Dennis.

We’ll be continuing to vlog this and other aspects of the garden over the next months, so you can see the best of the garden from your armchair.  For example, just along the bank from here will be carpeted in bluebells in May, and we wouldn’t want the “Virus Thing” to stop you seeing them!  Keep logging in.

In the first part you can see the clearly defined ‘tongue’ of water. At the time of filming it the river was a bit up, so you can’t easily see the two huge flat stones which usually stayed dry on either side (mini waterfalls in this clip).  The gap was just wide enough for the cats to be able to leap from one stone to the other, crossing the river without getting their paws wet!

In the second part, you see it as it is today.  Even at the current low level of water, the two stones are well under water and the ‘tongue’ has completely disappeared.  Instead of a rush of water the whole area is now almost a millpond.  Look how much stone has been displaced to where the ‘tongue’ would have been.

Further down the river, alongside our new field, there’s a big waterfall, which was always straight across.  Now it is V-shaped!

The power of water!!

Another video lovely

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Continuing our series of short garden videos, here’s one for all of us who find the sound of running water so relaxing.

Being where we are, we have no shortage of running water.  The Nant y Bedd – Stream of the Grave – running through the garden and feeding into the beautiful Grwyne Fawr.  And then we have our ‘adopted’ waterfall on the opposite bank, which is unfortunately never as spectacular when our summer visitors are here as it can be throughout the rainy winter months.

We hope you will be able to visit at some point this year and enjoy the soothing sounds.

A little video for you

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In these difficult times, we thought we would try to lighten your days (or make you even more frustrated that you can’t get out!) by uploading a few little videos of the garden as it is now and as it progresses over the next few months.

As a starter, and especially for all those who like to think of themselves as a kind of Indiana Jones, here’s one of the rope bridge.

Hope it works!

Virus / Opening News

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Despite not being able to open for the NGS, we have set up a JustGiving page where you can donate directly to the National Garden Scheme and help to continue their magnificent support for a raft of really important UK nursing and health charities.  JustGiving is easy and secure, just click here to go to our page. 

 

Following advice from the National Garden Scheme (NGS) our planned opening over the late May Bank Holiday is now cancelled.  We have also cancelled any workshops, events and visits until at least the end of May.  Please check back later for news from June onwards.

We hope that we will be able to carry on with our normal (non-NGS) openings starting at the beginning of July, but will confirm this at a later date when things will hopefully be much clearer.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

In the meantime if you want to learn a bit more about Nant y Bedd, you can download (if you haven’t already done so) the Candide Gardening app for your phone or pad and listen to Sue describing the background and ethos of the garden and interesting detail about the key features.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

As the Spring weather appears to be finally upon us – OK that might be a bit presumptuous! – let’s all use the opportunity of being ‘confined to barracks’ to enjoy the great health benefits of our own gardens!

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Angel and Grave

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Don’t worry, you haven’t just stumbled on a new heavy-metal rock band.  The title refers to the Angel Hotel in Abergavenny and, of course us – for those who have forgotten their Welsh lessons, Bedd (as in Nant-y-Bedd) is the Welsh for a grave (a bronze age one on the top of the mountain behind the house!).

Actually, Angel & Grave sounds a bit like one of those currently very trendy shops or holiday companies who seem to delight in putting a couple of seemingly random words together!  But this is a genuine collaboration – read on!

Having just taken my Mother to the Angel for her 100th Birthday (yes, you did read that right), we had an e-mail from Jo, their Sales & Marketing Manager, the very next day.  Coincidence or what?  Well it was, sheer coincidence.

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As the pre-eminent hotel in Abergavenny, indeed recently voted the Best in Wales, the Angel fits nicely with our recently acquired Wales’ Favourite Garden.

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Amongst other suggestions, Jo proposed setting up a number of Special Breaks at the hotel to tie in with some of our Workshops and Events, along the lines of stay at the Angel, with breakfast and dinner and attend one of the courses as part of the package.

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Jo chose three; Wild Weaving with Jess Tanner, Blueprints with Ruth Barnes Richards and Sue’s own Wild Gardening.  You can see the outcome at www.angelabergavenny.com/special-offers.

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So if you fancy a night of pampering at the Angel and an instructive and enjoyable day at Nant-y-Bedd Garden, look no further.  Or maybe you have a richly deserving relative or friend who you’ve been wondering what to buy them, well now you know!

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We and Jess and Ruth, are all thrilled to be involved in this.

… 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.

At last all can be revealed — Nant y Bedd on TV!

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In various blogs, newsletters and the like, we been teasing you all for some months.  Not because we wanted to, but because the contract we had with the film company precluded us from saying anything.

But after the programme was broadcast last Tuesday, we can finally reveal that Alan Titchmarsh was here in May filming Nant y Bedd as the “inspirational garden” for an episode of the ITV series Love Your Garden.

For those who haven’t seen the programme, they find deserving people who need a better garden for whatever reason.  The garden in our episode was not far away in Pontypool, where the unfortunate Chris had lost his hands and feet to sepsis.  With a largish garden, three young children and a busy wife, Chris found himself restricted to the small patio outside the back door.  Alan’s team of miracle workers transformed the wilderness, described as “the hardest task we’ve ever taken on” in just one week into something that the kids could enjoy, where his wife could work from home and in which Chris could get his wheelchair to all parts.

We were chosen as the inspirational garden for a number of reasons; we weren’t too far away, we have big slopes, water features, mature trees, sheds, the rope bridge and the treehouse.

After a flurry of e-mails, another Chris, the Director, came to have a look around one Thursday.  They had obviously done a lot of research online as he seemed to know exactly what he was looking for.  Then on the Tuesday following at 9am in rolled Alan Titchmarsh, Series Producer Colin, Director Chris and a cameraman and sound recordist. The weather was magnificent and we were all carefully dressed in our finest with hair neatly styled!  “Oh, sorry, I forgot to tell you we don’t feature the garden owners!”  Oh well, never mind. Fortunately no-one thought to mention this ban to Smudge!

One always wonders if TV celebs are the same in real life as they are on screen.  We can report that Alan T is a really lovely man.  Chatting away between takes, reading us a poem he wrote in the car on the way here and telling a few anecdotes about garden owners of, shall we say, a rather higher social status!  He said his wife would also love our garden, but when I suggested he bring her, he said “No way, she’ll want me to transform our garden!”

During a lull to sort out a problem with the camera, he grabbed a stick and stated playing with the boat on the pond.  When offered a chance to go up into the treehouse, which wasn’t quite finished at the time, his response was “Just try and stop me!”  as he disappeared up a very tall ladder. Oh, and whilst waiting to film the opening shot he cried out “a stoat has just run over my foot!”

I did have to give him a ‘telling off’ for running on the bridge – setting a bad example for other visitors.  By the way no ducks were injured in the filming of this sequence – just a little bit surprised!!

Anyway enough of my prattlings, have a look at the clip below – make sure you have the sound on – as he says some really lovely things about Nant y Bedd

 

If you can, go to the ITV Hub and watch the full programme, but make sure you have a full box of tissues at hand! It was broadcast on Tuesday 22nd October.

Many thanks to Spun Gold TV for allowing us to use the above clip.  

Make your own Christmas Wreath at Nant-y-Bedd

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Unfortunately, this workshop is now fully booked.

Our final workshop of this year gives you the chance to make your very own Christmas Wreath for your front door.

The standard to aim for!

Led by Sue, who has many years experience working with her father and more recently her sister to produce fantastic looking wreaths for sale, you will go through the whole process starting with the bare wire rings, then adding moss and locally sourced foliage and cones.  Make up your own slant on the design as you go along. We will be using entirely natural materials, mainly foraged from the garden.

Take time out to enjoy a delicious two-course home-made lunch in Garden Room then, when you are happy with your handiwork, head off home and proudly display your skill on the front door!  When your neighbours ask “Where did you buy that lovely wreath?” you can tell them “I made it!”

With two leaders and only six places, personal attention is guaranteed!   Wednesday 4th December from 10.00 until 3.30pm.   Book early to avoid disappointment!

For more details click here:  Christmas Wreath Making Workshop

The Nation’s Favourite Garden?

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If you follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or get our bi-monthly Newsletter, you should already know that Nant y Bedd Garden has been shortlisted as one of the top 30 gardens in the

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and

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competition to find “The Nation’s Favourite Garden” !!  How about that?

The competition seeks to find the nation’s (that is England and Wales) favourite National Garden Scheme garden.

There’s over 3500 gardens who open for the scheme, so to be in the top 0.85% is rather heartening, to say the least.

And to make it better we didn’t apply to be in this; we were nominated by a person or persons unknown.

The prizes are to be split along NGS regional lines, so we are up against two others from Wales – Hurdley Hall, in Churchstoke and Ysgoldy’r Cwrt in Tregaron –  and two from England – Wollerton Old Hall in Market Drayton and Stockton Bury near Leominster –  in the Wales and the Marches section.

Looking down the overall list there’s a lot of ‘Halls’, ‘Manors’, ‘Courts’, ‘Old Vicarages’ and ‘Priorys’ plus a little-known place called Great Dixter!!!  Then there’s little us, so you can see we are rather pleased to be in such company.

Voting is open from now until the end of September at www.theenglishgarden.co.uk/ngs and one lucky voter will win a near £5000 cruise on the Danube (courtesy of Viking Cruises).

Scan this code to go straight to the voting page, then scroll down to Wales and the Marches. QR code

Please do vote for us.  If you haven’t been yet, we are open every Friday to Sun from 2pm until 6pm until the end of September (which coincides nicely with the closing date of the votes!)

Let’s see if we can get rid of that ? in the title of this blog!

UPDATE

Well we did get rid of that ?  Although you won’t find it on the magazine or NGS sites, we are officially or unofficially, Wales’ Favourite Garden.  As runner-up in Wales and the Marches we had the highest votes of any garden in Wales!   “Sorted!”

One small step

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This week 50 years ago we were regaled by what has gone down as one of the most iconic statements in the English language – “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”.

What’s that got to do with Nant y Bedd Garden, you may well ask?   Well we have finally achieved “one small step for Sue, one giant climb to the top of the treehouse” (with the greatest apologies to Neil Armstrong).

“one small step…”

Yes, after the gestation period of what seems like a whole herd of elephants, the long-awaited treehouse is finally finished.  Conceived back in March 2017 as – ostensibly – a birthday present for Finley, only a mere 29 months later we have the final article.

bare tree at start of project

“You could put a lovely treehouse in that one!”

 

drawing of treehouse

“Yes, just like that!”

Everything seemed be going to be very well when grandson Finley shinned up the ladder to help Mick lay the first bit of floor, on his birthday.

Finley and Mick lay the foundations

Finley gets to grips with the first piece

But it was to be a couple of birthdays later before it was finished.

Mick got caught up in other jobs and that solitary bit of floor stayed that way until late 2018, when Dan Tuckett came along on one of Sue’s garden workshops and let slip that his ‘day job’ was building round-timber structures!   “Ever built one in a tree?” asked Sue. “No, but it must be fairly similar.” Said Dan.

We managed to get both Mick and Dan together one day to discuss what one had planned and the other was going to build.   They seemed to agree and so Dan was given the task of bringing Sue and Mick’s ideas to fruition.

Working through the winter wasn’t really an option, with short days, wet surfaces and the cold winds ripping through the tree, so work was scheduled to start in March 2019 and be completed by our NGS open days at the end of May.

Dan had worked out that he couldn’t do it on his own and really needed someone used to swinging around in trees, as much of the initial work would require skilled ropework.  A good friend of his, Oli Stinchcombe – an experienced tree surgeon-  seemed to fit the bill and the two of them arrived with trailer loads of timber in mid-March.

first poles in place

It is going to happen!

Everything had to be carried the last fifty yards and across the rickety bridge to the tree.  The turbine house became an impromptu store cupboard for tools and bolts and things.

two men and a pole

Carrying onto site

From here on in things progressed smoothly, if not quite to timescale!  Some delays due to timber supplies and the other demands of modern parents conspired to ensure the end of May deadline came and went.  There was an obvious structure there, but it certainly wasn’t usable.

the ribcage takes shape

That’s a floor there!

Seasons go on and levels get higher

We can work in the dry now

Then all of a sudden with the cladding and roof in place, we had a treehouse.  Still quite a few things to do – and the inevitable ‘client’s changes to specification’! – dragged the finish date into July.   But now it is fully functional and a source of great interest to our visitors – it’s even had celebrity endorsement!

Dan basking in the glory (and sunshine)

nearly finished

The great thing about Dan & Oli’s structure is that is hardly impacts on the tree at all.  A couple of dead pieces were trimmed to fit but otherwise the entire framework sits on and around the branches of this magnificent Sycamore, which seems very happy with its new ‘friend’.  As you know we garden organically, and this has evolved organically, with the position of every new beam carefully thought through, rather than blindly following an architect’s drawing.

A big Well Done to Mick for his design ideas, to Dan for making them reality, to Oli for hanging around (literally) in the treetops in sun and rain and of course to Sue for having the original vision.  Me?  I just got in the way and made useless suggestions!

the new “Yoga Studio” / gin deck / kids den / bat roost ????

 

From this to ….

final view of threehouse

….this

And here’s a lovely little video taken by Dan.  (turn the sound up full to hear Sid!!)

Great, isn’t it?

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…

 

 

 

 

Climate Change? What a difference a fortnight makes!

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Having just climbed out of the pond after my second swim of the Easter weekend – a little bracing, but most satisfying – it struck me that only a fortnight ago I wouldn’t have even contemplated a dip.

Having sailed though March with barely a tremor weather-wise, dear old Mother Mature came and bit us on the bum on the 4th April.

April showers??

Where’s the daffs gone?

In common with the higher parts of Wales, we copped about 5 inches of that heavy sticky snow in just 24 hours.  Apart from flattening the daffs, it brought down a few branches including one which has necessitated some repairs to the rope bridge.

Rescued daffs

Within a day most of it had gone, so I had a good session on the hydro, although as so often it all came too quickly rather than just the right amount spread out over more days.

stream in spate

The next few days bumbled along feeling really cold in the wind, but warm and sunny out of it, with the odd frost overnight.

Then came the ‘Bank Holiday Heatwave’ and it has been shorts and T-shirts, skinny-dipping in the pond, barbecues and lunches on the patio.  Oh yes, and some garden visitors.   What a turn around!

bracing but lovely.

Sunshine!

 

 

Shinrin-yoku or 森林浴 (Forest Bathing)

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I do hope the Japanese characters at the top are the right ones – I got them from the website of our latest event provider!

Shinrin-yoku or Forest Bathing is becoming very popular in the UK and now it comes to Nant y Bedd Garden.  It will also be at the Chelsea Flower Show, where the Duchess of Cambridge is helping to design the RHS display, including a bit for Forest Bathing!  As usual we are bang up to date with all the latest trends!

It means ‘bathing’ all the senses, whilst walking slowly in the forest.

When taking in the forest atmosphere like this, the brain naturally switches off from the ‘sustained directed attention’ of life’s daily pressures. Shinrin-yoku is restorative, both mentally and physically, like a bath.

woodland and river

Idyllic spot for a bit of Forest Bathing

Walking in the forest in this way is not like hiking in the woods, nor indeed does it involve collecting or recording information and images like a naturalist or for social media.

You can find out a lot more about it on Carina Greenwood’s site, Forest Bathe.

Carina will be leading three groups here at Nant y Bedd, taking in our conifer woodland, riverbank and of course other parts of the garden.

Dates are currently fixed for 20th May, 24th June and 23rd September.  All of these are Mondays, so a lovely way of starting the week! Days will start at 10.30 and go through until about 4.00pm.  Find out more by clicking the ‘BOOK’ tab on the Forest Bathe site.

We are really looking forward to this fascinating addition to the Workshops and Events roster here this year.

 

Ian’s Review of the Year – Part 2

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We left off in Part 1 just as June came to a close.

From July until the end of September is our “Open Season”, so not only lots to do in the garden, especially from my point of view trying to fit in noisy jobs like lawn-mowing (fortunately the prolonged dry spell had kept grass growth to a minimum for a few months), but also loads of wonderful conversations with our visitors – just over 700 of them this year.

We really do enjoy chatting with them and discussing all aspects of gardening, old tractors, chickens, pigs and bikes!  Yes, all of these were raised on more than one occasion during the summer!

One of the first things that happened in July was the arrival of this year’s two piggies. Oxford Sandy & Blacks again from Sarah and Ian in Llangynidr.  We had a male and a female this year as the second male we wanted proved too difficult to catch!  It worked out OK and our first visitors after they arrived named them, rather topically, as Harry and Meghan!!  (I haven’t dared put this in writing until now in case I got hauled off to the Tower!)

Harry & Meghan get to know their ‘patch’

In the natural swimming pond we had to share our space with lots and lots of newts, busy getting fat on the tadpoles.

Not Great Crested – honestly!

Then we had a very unusual visitor on the table outside the Shepherd’s Hut.  A fledgling (just) cuckoo.  After the dragonflies earlier in the year, this just emphasised to us how fortunate we are to be surrounded by all these amazing beasts.

Who’s a pretty Cuckoo?

As the sun continued to shine we hosted our NGS Open weekend.  Numbers were down on last year, but this appeared to be a nationwide problem.  Apparently it was too hot to go out!  Talking of the NGS, at the end of the month we helped out at the Royal Welsh for them – hope you like the pinny!

No comment!

Of course as it was Royal Welsh week it rained!

The week after our NGS days we had a group visit from the Professional Gardeners Guild – thirty of them – so no pressure there then!  In fact they seemed to really enjoy the afternoon and didn’t want to leave, even though some had travelled quite long distances.

Early in August we took delivery of some new ducks.  We had managed to hatch out one egg from the previous lot – who laid about a dozen then disappeared on day – and decided he (as we can now confirm) needed some friends.  So big thanks to Linzi for 5 new ones, who incidentally are so much larger than the original ones.  They performed for the visitors admirably during the summer, but have recently taken to getting down to the pond, which has to be stopped!

Quackers behaving

August passed by in a blur of visitors and trying to keep on top of the amazing growth that the long hot dry spell, coupled with recent rain had set in train. So by early September we were harvesting furiously.

From my point of view the two most important crops were the Sichuan Peppercorns and the hops.  I planted Fuggles and Goldings hop varieties about ten years ago.  Every year they romp up the strings and occasionally produce a few flowers, which invariably turn brown before they are properly ripe.  This year the main patch was so full of flowers that they bent two metal 10mm square supporting poles.  This is no mean feat and a full carrier bag of flowers weighs about five ounces.  You get the idea of how much there was.  Eventually I managed to pick and dry enough for about 7 or 8 homebrews, but it is slow, tedious work and there were other things requiring my time.

Just a very small part of the Sichuan and Hop harvest

The Sichuan was also amazing and took several days of picking which yielded 6 spice jars full.  Doesn’t sound a lot but that should do us a year of ‘Chinese’ stir-fries.

Around the same time the forest was humming with odd sorts ferreting around for mushrooms.  Apparently the weather was perfect for ceps and chanterelles.  Spotting a car that had seemingly gone straight on at a corner, I was about to enquire if they were OK when the window wound down and it was our friend Bruce, mushroom hunter extraordinaire. He stopped and took Sue mushrooming around the back of the house – and we are still here to tell the tale!

Edible ones – thank goodness

I mentioned earlier how we enjoy all sorts of obscure conversations with visitors. Sue was in the yard one morning when a car pulled up and the occupant (a gentleman of advanced years) got out and said “ah, yes, just how I remember it”.  It turned out that he had spent some time working here for the Forestry Commission many years before Sue arrived in 1980.  To cut a very long story short he recommended a book (published in 1952), which we managed to source via the dear old Interweb.  There on the front cover is our house, surrounded by fields rather forest – though marauding sheep do feature!  There’s a short bit about the local office inside as well, so that was a wonderful chance meeting.

“Mum, we’re on the cover!”

The middle of October brought our, now annual, invasion of the ladybirds.  As with most things this year, a larger number than before, but still (mainly) in the one corner of the bedroom window.  I even managed to get a letter about them published in the  Daily Telegraph  to go with my (previously unpublished) one that made their annual book of the “Best of the Rest”  Fame at last!

Hibernation time

We held off harvesting the grapes as long as possible and were rewarded by enough to make over 30 bottles of wine – and all without having to add too much extra sugar.  Colours are excellent; tasting in a few months!

Chateau Nantybedd

As October drew to a close we had some amazing evening skies. Difficult to get good phots with basic cameras, but this will give you an idea.  Of course the leaves were falling by now so much effort was in raking and refilling the leafmould bins.  But where they fall on water they do make for a pretty picture.

Outside the small greenhouse

Into November and the first key task was to work through a few of the (much admired) woodstores and get them cut to length and into the shed.  Looks a lot but I reckon March might show a very different view.  This rapid turnover of firewood means that more trees have to be felled and split to replenish the outside stores.   I was well into this with about a dozen reasonable size conifers felled, de-branched and cut to length when I awoke early one morning in absolute agony.  Six weeks later, its a bit better but despite blood tests and X-rays the Docs still don’t know what the problem is or how it might have been caused. Very frustrating.

just a few sticks of firewood

We had our first real frost on 22nd and were wondering if we’d be under a foot of snow again in a few weeks, but so far, so good.

Jack Frost arrives

We finally managed to get the few days away at Stockwell Farm that we were snowed out of in March, but I wasn’t exactly the life and soul of the party! But id did do a lot of good raining, so at least the hydro was finally making some money again!

December has passed in a bit of a blur of Doctor appointments and Ibuprofen and getting ready for Christmas.  Sue made her annual Holly Wreath (in fact she made an extra one for the gate) and posted a picture on Instagram.  Two people responded by asking if she did wreath making courses.  She will be now!

Make your own Holly Wreath in 2019

On the matter of courses, we have a full 2019 programme of Liz’s Foraging Days and Sue is in the process of finalising more Compost Making, Wild Gardening and Organic Vegetable Growing (as well as Wreath Making) days and these will be published here very soon.

A somewhat eclectic, and certainly one-sided, view of 2018 but occasionally I’m allowed to witter on about things I like!

Happy 2019 and good gardening to all.

 

 

 

 

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”!

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