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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”!

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!

A case of mistaken identity

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You may have seen our recent article in the magazine of the Small Woods Association (SWA) of which we have been members for a few years now.  We put a copy on Facebook and Instagram, but here’s the story behind it.

The SWA are a lovely bunch of people, both staff and fellow members, who are really interested in making the most of the thousands of small patches of woodland scattered all over the country.

Last year, a bit frustrated that many of the events in other peoples woodlands were all so far away, we offered a day here at Nant y Bedd, with woodland stuff in the morning and the chance to enjoy the garden in the afternoon.  They pretty well bit our hand off to accept, particularly after Russell from SWA came down to have a quick recce.  He was so taken with what we are doing that he arranged what was probably better than usual publicity for our event.

We were really fortunate with the weather and a group of about a dozen woodland owners plus a couple from SWA had a cracking day exchanging ideas, catastrophes, and successes before tucking into their picnics.  Sue gave them a garden tour in the afternoon which seemed to also go down very well.

SWA members cluster around Cedric

A couple of months later I opened an e-mail from the editor of the SWA magazine saying that the reports of our little patch that he’d had back from the SWA staff sounded perfect for an article.  Never ones to turn down free publicity, we agreed before he could change his mind.

There wasn’t any urgency as the article was due in the Spring 2018 edition so “sometime in January” would be fine.  Dangerous words ‘no urgency’ particularly with Christmas in the way.  Sue was pencilled in to write it, as she has the “management plan” in her head {one day I’ll get to know what’s in it}, but come the New Year and still no obvious progress from the distaff side, I sat down one snowy afternoon and rattled off the required 1300-1400 words – actually in my enthusiasm it came in at 1643 (and that’s not 17 minutes to 5pm!).  However it was liked by Derek the Editor – and not cut – so pictures were now required.

Choosing a good selection took a while and they were sent off to the Art Director (aka the Editor’s wife in the next room!). Four were chosen, although only three made it in – more on this later.  We sat back and awaited the proof.

If you were beginning to think that the title of this blog was a bit odd, now you’ll see why.  The proof landed in the in-box on a snowy March morning and immediately I noticed something wrong.  I’d changed identity.  The sub-heading called me Neal! Without bothering to read the rest, I immediately pinged a reply, to which I got back an e-mail addressed to “dear George”  signed “Winston”.

Ah,here was a kindred spirit – someone who doesn’t take life too seriously!  This simple e-mail started a raft of correspondence during which we each tried to outdo the other – Vladimir, Boris, Alphonse, Pascal, Chang, Ludwig, Sebastian and Christiano all made an appearance along with others.

Anyway here’s the finished article.

…and the picture that got away?

I can see it!

Apparently the front cover picture of the previous issue set off a lot of “elf and Safety correspondence due to the position of the lady’s legs – she was properly attired whilst using a chain saw to fell a small tree! So as not to get the safety brigade up in arms again it was decided to pull my chipper photo – which was both very safe (everything turned off) and rather humorous.  C’est la vie!

A big thanks to all at SWA, particularly Arbuthnot – or should that be Derek!

You might have noticed that it’s been raining!

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Quite a lot actually.  The hydro has 5 days to go in this quarter and it is already our highest single quarter of generation since we started in 2012.  So in my book, that makes it the wettest quarter for 6 years and that doesn’t take into account all the additional rainwater that couldn’t fit into the turbine’s 3kWh limit.

Look how much is ‘going to waste’ here!

All that wasted electricity!

Sue has been manfully (or should that be womanfully) trying to carry on with the Spring (!!??) tasks in the garden, but I’ve found the time to fire up the forge, dust off the circular saw and make some bits and bobs that sunshine stops me from doing.

A couple of our very old cold-frames were falling apart, so with the help of a few recycled (cadged from a skip!) windows, knocked together two new ones; all mod cons, double glazed, half-open and full-open latches and hand-forged lifting handles!

Rolls-Royce cold-frame

curly-wurly handle

Then, for indoors, I finally got round to replacing a number of screws, bent hooks and the like which were making the (newly painted) kitchen look a bit untidy.

I was helped in the motivation to get forging by Sue buying me a day working with a genuine blacksmith for my birthday – so thought I’d better brush up my skills a bit before going along.

Hand-forged hook (and poker)

A ‘nest of hooks’ – deliberately made in different sizes for different jobs, but they just look right all together.

 

And now, something cutesy to finish up with.  These four little ‘rays of sunshine’ appeared.

Two girls, two boys and all supposed to be black!

 

 

Starting the new garden year – on video!

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

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

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

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

Just click on the arrow button and enjoy!

Is all wildlife friendly?

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As you will know, we pride ourselves on our wildlife friendliness.  But is all wildlife as friendly as we’d like? We know that our local badgers have a liking for the occasional tulip bulb – OK, have a liking for a LOT of tulip bulbs – but have they now forsaken vegetarianism for a liking for a bit of flesh and blood?

Over the past few nights there’s been a lot of ground disturbance around the duck house.  So we dug out the night vision camera and here’s the result.

Anybody about?

 

Is that a camera? Do I get royalties?? Should have brushed my hair!

Tricky-looking catch on this door

 

Oh well, I’ll have a little dig here then.

Ah! This looks a bit more promising. If only I can move this old garden fork…..

 

…that’s better.

Bit of a squeeze

 

I’m sure there’s something down here

 

Mmm, don’t think I can get any further. Maybe have another look tomorrow!

Fortunately, we don’t think he was after the ducks, maybe a mouse or three, but I can imagine the consternation in the hutch.

The sharp-eyed among you will have noticed that the dates on the pics are a bit in the wrong order, but it makes a better story that way.  We’ve now moved the hutch a few yards and the latest pics suggest that the ducks are quite safe, but we’ll make sure they are safely in bed every night for a while!

Christmas on the Beech

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No, that’s not a spelling mistake in the title.  We’re talking here about beech trees in the dingle, not lovely sandy stretches in the Bahamas.

The big snow of just before Christmas, knocked quite a few branches off trees, particularly some of the conifers in the garden, but nothing too catastrophic.  It was only when I went up to clear the pond pipe and check the hydro intake, that I saw it.  I couldn’t see what I was after, but I could see a lot of tree lying head down across the stream – as reported in the previous post.

One you’ve seen earlier!

OK, so it doesn’t look that huge in this photo but the bit where it split off the rest of the trunk is about 2 foot in diameter and it’s probably 60 foot tall/long.  It is also on both sides of the stream with a steep drop on one side.

The problem was how to make it safe in the first place.  Cut into the wrong bit and there were half a dozen spiky branches just waiting to making a horrible mess of the intake screen – which would have meant turning off the hydro just as it is starting to generate some useful quantities.

First, gain access to the site

After a couple of hours of careful tree surgery I was finally able to see the intake and get access to the pipe – after a fashion!

Much of this ‘brash’ is still there……

….. because it is acting as a fence against the forest sheep, the wire having been smashed down in more than one place.  Still plenty of useful firewood in there eventually though.

Then it was on to the ‘business end’, where once again it was holding the fence down, offering a motorway sized entrance to wildlife.

I had hoped that a cut through just above the wire would allow it to swing the main length up and away, but there were too many branches propping up the main spars so it had to be done in smaller sections until the fence was released and could be repaired.

Getting to grips with the bigger stuff…..

… which is where they still lay, pending a bit of additional muscle (hopefully in the shape of family) as I can’t move this size of log in the length I want on my own.

The smaller (relatively speaking) logs I threw into a rough pile on one side of the stream..

roughly removed..

… and then built a nice cord-wood style stack between a couple of alders.  This pile is roughly 4′ x 5′ x 6′, or according to ArbTalk about 3.2 tons!  And that is probably less than half of what will eventually be harvested.

Tidy!

All that was needed now was a bit of time and the job would be done.

But, guess what?  It snowed again and the tree next up the slope also split apart and dropped three more branches exactly in the same spot. Not quite as big, but equally tangled and disruptive.  So, like the old Flanders and Swann song about the gasman, it all started again yesterday or if you prefer “it all makes work for the (retired) working man to do!”

Still, in a year or two we’ll have a lovely big stack of my favourite firewood to keep us warm – just a lot of carrying, splitting and cutting in the interim!

 

White Christmas comes early

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For those “dreaming of a white Christmas”, the dream came true rather early this year, and for us even earlier than for most.  It was Friday 8th when when woke to about 3″ of snow on a gloomy looking morning.

Looking up the dingle

I decided to try to get a few shots before it all got messed up and dirty (not knowing what was coming a couple of days later!).  Those of you who also follow us on Instagram will have seen this pic before – it’s now our all-time top-ranking photo on that site.

Another one from the same day.

What’s that white tree down by the pond?

Saturday was snow free and the weather forecast for Sunday was either ‘heavy snow’ or ‘heavy rain’ depending on whose forecast you believed.  Well here’s the answer. On Sunday alone we got about 10 inches, which a couple more overnight into Monday.

Bird feeder with added insulation!

Post box proves it is a colour photograph

Wonder why we couldn’t get an internet connection!

Even where there wasn’t much snow the patterns were still interesting.

patio by the tearoom

.. but mostly the snow lay thick and spectacular

Another Instagram post – teazles looking like cotton wool balls

This one was hiding something – see later!

 

Comfortable looking chairs – but not much room to put your cup of tea

Fluffier and fluffier!

Even down in the Spooky Forest things got a covering

Dear old Cedric looked most dignified with his white ‘tache and beard

Blue skies and deep snow – could be Switzerland

But then it began to thaw – but still froze overnight

Turbine icicles

The souffles are going down – looking more like wedding cakes now

But with every silver lining comes a cloud – this huge (you don’t get the scale from here, but the hydro intake is somewhere in the middle of all that ) beech tree split apart just above ground level fortunately without doing too much damage.  Plenty of firewood and lots of exercise will be the result.

This was what was behind the pretty conifer earlier

“our” waterfall benefits from the thawing snow

Finally most of the snow has gone and last night we had this beautiful sunset.

Red sky at night ….

White Christmas?  Doesn’t look so likely now, but we can dream!

 

 

 

A big thanks to all our readers!

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We’ve had a fantastic year – busy, but well worth it.

To start with, we welcomed nearly 900 visitors to the garden, most of them in small groups of two or three, but also the BIG charity weekend for the National Garden Scheme when 233 came streaming through the gates! We also did the Herefordshire (don’t ask!) Gardens in the Wild weekend of which more in Sue’s blog following on soon….!

We also had our very first coach load – the driver was a bit concerned but made it without any mishaps! – and some bespoke events with, for example, the Small Woods Association.

The conversations about the garden, the pond, the hydro and other subjects meant that many people were here for a couple of hours or more – and a good number came back for second and third visits with friends and family, so we must be doing something right.

On the digital front, this blog has hit new heights; over 8,000 views and more than 3,000 visitors already this year. Quite impressive! Getting Sue out of the garden and into blogging mode is one of my big challenges for next year!

We’ve got into Twitter (in a small way) with @nantybeddgarden.  We’ve forged ahead with our Instagram page (click on the button on the right for a full viewing) and now have posted over 170 images of the garden and have nearly 150 followers – just trying to make sure the posts exceed the followers is getting harder to do. An interesting set of contacts have also arisen through comments. We’re about to investigate FaceBook, though it looks a bit scary! And all this without a mobile phone signal!!

And in the New Year we’ll be launching our new Newsletter. Get signed up!

As regular readers will have seen, we had features in Country Homes and Interiors, House and Garden and The Organic Way during the year, and we should be featuring in the Small Woods Association’s magazine early in 2018.  There’s a couple of other potential articles also currently ‘under wraps’ – watch this space!

So, a VERY BIG THANKS to all our readers, followers and visitors, not forgetting those wonderful photographers and writers who have helped spread the word.

Keeping in touch

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Although the season is over we are still getting calls about our opening times.  The garden, and particularly the paths, need to recover from the pounding of very many feet and a fair amount of wet weather, so we are reluctant to accept any more visitors until the Spring.

But how will you know when we will be open again?  It’s most likely that we will replicate the July to end September weekends next year, but people do ask about the Spring.  Spring comes at different times for us – it is so dependant on the warmth of the sun in the early months, so giving an indication now is almost impossible.

Also Sue is considering holding one or two ‘workshops’.

Sue in full flow – ‘workshop’ style!

So, we have decided to organise a regular e-mail newsletter, which will give an idea of what’s good in the garden at two-monthly intervals. We will, of course, continue with the blog and our Instagram and Twitter feeds.

If you would like to be on the mailing list, drop us an e-mail to garden@nantybedd.com or fill in the Contact Form below and we’ll add your name.  We promise not to use the information for anything other than the newsletter.  Get you friends to ‘subscribe’ as well.

We’ll acknowledge every request so you know we have received it.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

 

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