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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!

 

The moral of the compass- a happy tale

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A few weeks ago I was just coming out of the yard, when a couple of walkers said “hello”.  This isn’t strange; if I had a pound for every walker who said “hello” or asked a question about the woodstacks or garden, I’d be a rich man. But the male of the pair said “This is a rather unusual question, but do you have a compass I could buy off you?”.   Remembering that we had a spare one hanging in the kitchen, I said “follow me” and we headed back to the house.  When we got there Sue was just coming out and so joined in the conversation.

It turned out that the young couple were just at the start of a 3-4 day walking holiday in the mountains and to save a bit of time had got a taxi from the station to the Car Park just down the road.  They paid off the taxi, shouldered their packs, got out the map and …. “where’s the compass?”.  It had obviously fallen out of the pocket of one of their rucksacks and was now speeding back to Abergavenny.

Now, many people who go walking round here don’t even have a proper map, yet alone a compass, so we immediately warmed to someone so well versed in country navigation.  It turned out that, Roger (as he introduced himself) had always preferred navigating by compass and losing his was a real dampener on their trip.

Feeling good about them, we let them have our spare, on condition they sent it back afterwards.

Well, a couple of weeks then passed and we were beginning to think that we’d never see that compass again.  Then the postman came on Tuesday and handed over a padded envelope.  I knew immediately what it was.   Tearing open the envelope, I found our compass and this lovely hand-written poem…

Moral Compass

One thing I learned when I was young,
was “never lose your compass, son”.
But as Black Mountains loomed ahead
I turned to Mollie and said,
“get her out, our walkers friend”
but in her eyes I saw the end.
“it’s not here, our compass gone”.
Mountains all around, nowhere to don
a new one and all I can think
is “never lose your compass, son.”

On we pressed, not yet defeated
But my sense of humour’s depleted
I can’t believe it
I should have seen it fall
I squall and moan about the route,
without a compass I can’t compute.

But our brief dispute is mended
when we befriended
our first couple of the day.
Ian and Sue, who
with gentle smiles and garden of beauty
kindly lent us a walkers booty.

Couple, garden and cats behind
we left with compass on to find
our bothy at the reservoir.
Over-excited to reserve our
place of sleep for the night,
after such a day of  plight.

But NO, the enemy’s seen ahead
striding on to steal our bed.
Lo and behold, they’re there before,
seeing us they must deplore

But up a mutual chat we strike,
quickly turns friendly and into the night
we drink, reminisce, confide and talk,
simple things after a walk.

This couple for who earlier we had hate
have given us joy into the late
and even gave us the bothy bed
a cosy hut to rest our head.
Such kind people we’ve met today
when it could have ended in disarray.

Ian and Sue, Tim and Lou
this is for people who
look out for others, take time and care.
For you a little poem I can share!

Roger Dipper

Our faith in human nature is restored.  Thank you so much Roger and Mollie and we hope to see you here again sometime – preferably with your own compass!

 

It’s not easy being first

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Having a conversation with some garden visitors yesterday by the pond, it came to me that we have been, if not first then, early adopters of lots of things that have gone on to be far more widely accepted.

Take the natural swimming pond.

When we put ours in four years ago there was very little to base it on in this country. We’d come across the idea in France and Scandinavia, but these were really lakes in which one could swim rather than a specific place in a garden.   Now we have visitors coming from all over, who are “going to have one” and want to see what is needed, and how it works. Rumour has it that even David & Victoria Beckham are planning one – no doubt far larger / posher / etc.  Just remember we had one first!

Sitting next to the pond is our shepherd’s hut.

Built by a wonderful former shepherd in Dorset, Larry Skeates. Now we see them dotted around all over the countryside, used as holiday homes, offices and, most famously as a ‘writing room’ by David Cameron.

The price has gone through the roof and we no longer have something ‘a bit different’!

On a slightly different tack, our hydro-electric turbine was the precursor to so many more popping up that the Feed-In Tariff (FIT) took a nose dive, and virtually stopped any new schemes dead in the water – to coin a phrase!

 

We switched to cooking, heating the water and the house on wood about 9 years ago.

Great big chunks of wood that got one warm in so many different ways – felling, logging, stacking, cutting, carrying.

Then the Government got in on the act again – and got it wrong again – with the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). This encouraged new entrants to burn wood – nothing for us early adopters. It also increased imports, as most of the wood pellets burned by these people come from Ireland or the USA, rather than the woodland outside their doorsteps. No additional “getting warm” episodes either, just bulk delivery, vacuumed into a hopper and incinerated.

We get a nice warm feeling (as well as keeping fit) from all of our efforts and ideas and really enjoy discussing them with our visitors. If truth be told we don’t really mind the Camerons and Beckhams of this world getting to enjoy things we have been enjoying for many years, as long as they remember that we did it first!!

The garden today

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August Bank Holiday and too busy to compose a blog – harvesting produce, trimming hedges, weeding paths, and enjoying the long-awaited sunshine and our visitors.  Lots of lovely enthusiastic comments in our visitors’ book so they are obviously enjoying the garden too.  Here’s just one from 2 visitors (thanks Pam and Chris) yesterday:

‘Absolutely enchanting.  What a special place.”

Here are some photos of the garden today to whet your appetite if you haven’t visited yet…

Phlox, Monarda and Michaelmas daisy in the cottage garden

 

The Pumpkins and squashes are finally getting away through the Michaelmas daisies

 

Lily African Queen in the cottage garden

 

Calendula Nova and runner beans Scarlet Emperor and Black Pod in the Potager

 

Our visitors love this Monarda in the Potager

Dahlia New Baby planted the year my grand-daughter was born – she’s 6 now. Supports on loan from Kirsty – thank you.

 

Starting to harvest the onions in the Potager

 

Mary’s daisies – I love yellow in the garden even in the summer – some people don’t!

 

Leek seedheads and Munchen Bier radish flowering – because we eat the seed pods

 

Oh and the other thing that’s keeping me busy is preparing a talk which I’ve been invited to give to the Hardy Plant Society next Saturday – entitled ‘Gardening in the Wild’.  Here’s a taster…

Greater willowherb amongst the veg in the Potager

The common name for this lovely willowherb is Codlins-and-cream and is a food plant for the fat grey and black caterpillars of the Elephant Hawk-moth.  Who knew?

Whilst I don’t find time as often as I should to write a blog we do put photos regularly on Instagram @Nantybeddgarden

 

 

 

 

Tails of pigs

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Somewhat belatedly, we finally have a couple of pigs.  Caroline’s wonderful garden map shows a little piggie waiting to meet our visitors and we’ve been having to explain that we “haven’t got any yet.”

All that changed on Saturday.  After a couple of failed attempts to buy some weaners locally and a somewhat hopeless try at getting some from the market (horrible white, runty things), we were put in touch with a small breeder near Llangynidr by one of our garden visitors – thanks Caroline and Jake from Longtown.

We arranged with Ian and Sarah to collect our pair on Saturday morning.  The big problem to start with was which ones to choose.

Spot your pig!

Sue decided that we’d have a couple of girls – gilts – which narrowed it down.

A bit of Pied Piper work …

follow the food! (Farmers Ian and Sarah in white and red)

…got them penned in to a small area.  Farmer Ian had devised a way to get them from the field to the trailer without the unbelievably hellish sound made by piggies when they are handled by putting them in a big builders, dumpy bag.

All seemed to be going well, one in the bag and the next one selected, when the first one managed to get out. So it was back to Square One Minus One.

To cut a longish story a bit short, we then decided to move them one at a time and soon they were safely in the trailer.

In the trailer

At home, the bag trick worked perfectly and Sandy and Black – they are Oxford Sandy & Blacks, a rare breed – were soon checking out their new home.

Checking the boundaries (1)

Checking the boundaries (2)

They have settled in really quickly, and apart from a penchant to chew ones boots, seem to be lovely and friendly.

Thirsty work, this travelling!

Post-breakfast nap – it’s all right for some!

A quick scratch on a convenient post

More about Sandy and Black (or Bandy & Slack or Blandy & Sack – further (clean) anagrams are welcome!) as they grow, but here’s a nice one to finish …

Sisterly love!

(House and) Garden

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The publicity machine rolls on!  Last week saw the publication of a wonderful article in the (very upmarket) House and Garden magazine.

As with many of these things the wait was long, but very well worth it.

The photos were taken by the wonderfully talented Britt Willoughby Dyer  over two years ago, and so a few things have changed in the interim.

Words are by Abergavenny’s own Sarah Price.  Sarah has visited Nant-y-Bedd on a number of occasions and has mentioned us in one of her articles for Gardens Illustrated, so we were thrilled when she was asked to provide the text for Britt’s photos.

To have two such skilled (and lovely) people write about us makes the garden maintenance so worthwhile.  Thanks also to the team at House and Garden.

Nip out and get a copy before they sell-out, but in the meantime here’s a proof copy to peruse.

First prize

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Yesterday was the annual Llanthony Valley & District Show and Sports.  The weather wasn’t the greatest; wellies and 4x4s were the order of the day.  In addition to the usual vegetable show classes, the Garden Club runs a number of classes for – for want of a better term – vegetables in the ground.  This year there was really only one class which we felt was for us – Most Productive Vegetable Garden.

So we entered, and won! As Sue is now saying, it shows that a veg garden can be both pretty and productive.

Here’s a few of the veg the judges thought worthy of the title.

Cabbage

peas

Sturon onions

and the piece de resistance

the runner bean arch

This year we’ve been following the No-Dig philosophy of Charles Dowding.  Seems to be working!!

Words and pics

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We thought we would let those of you who don’t follow us on Instagram or Twitter have a quick look at what’s great in the garden and some of the lovely comments in the Visitors Book over the past few weeks.

Rain on the sweet peas (Photo: Lizz Saxon)

My heart feels at ease, my breath deeper. I am so grateful for the love and care felt in this place. 

Honeysuckle Serotina by the small pond

Pure Magic! Thank you for your beautiful, creative and awe-inspiring display!

Wild raspberry – great flavour!

Wildlife is amazing! Scenery is beautiful! Pond epic! Great place for kids!!

Rosebay Willow herb and Kiwi Fruit in the woodyard

What an amazing garden!  Thank you for sharing it with us. 

a riot of colour

A beautiful place to visit. Nature has been captured in this mesmerising and magical piece of land.  I’ll never see ground elder in the same light again!

Lilium Regale on the patio

Tranquil, immersive, relaxing, absorbing, natural, beautiful, encouraging, thought provoking, enchanting. imaginative fascinating, magical, stunning, incredible … the list goes on!   {edited from a much longer list – Ian}

Looking down the potager

Just one word to sum it up ….. enchanting!

Clematis by the tea-room

Every nook and cranny brings joy … Gorgeous!

Primula Florindae with Fox & Cubs in the background

Truly delightful and magical garden gave me a lot of inspirational ideas. 

… and that’s just a few of the comments. Come and add yours to The Book!

 

 

 

Country Homes and Exteriors!

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Yet more exposure for the garden today as Country Homes & Interiors publishes the long awaited article and photos by Carole Drake.

Gwent’s Most Magical!!

I won’t spoil it for you, but here’s part of the double page spread that starts it off (on page 100, since you asked!).

Not so sure about the “Diving”!

And here’s the last page.

The technical stuff

A really big “Thank You” to Carole Drake for persuading us to let her photograph the garden and for getting Country Homes to publish it.

Have we found the Bedd – Part 2

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Regular readers will remember a recent blog wondering whether we had found the Bedd (grave) which gives the house and stream its name.  Well, it appears we probably hadn’t.

By chance, last week I received an e-mail from a colleague on the Brecon Beacons Local Access Forum.  He just happens to work (at the moment) for the Clwyd-Powys Archeological Trust, so I pinged a reply and asked if he could see if the Trust had any records which might give the answer.

Yes they did.  There are two possible Bronze Age round barrows on Pen Twyn Mawr, just at the top of the Nant-y-Bedd stream.  To the untutored eye they don’t look like much, and both appear to have modern stone cairns built on top of them.

Archeological site CPAT5104…

..described as:  Possible burial cairn comprising disturbed area of turf-covered stone around 4m across x 0.2m high. A modern cairn lies adjacent. 

This cairn was apparently first noted on the Ordnance Survey in 1916.

and

Archeological site CPAT65001..

..described as :  Possible cairn comprising spread of partly turf-covered stones c. 6m across x 0.2m high, lying beneath a modern cairn.

So there you have it, from the ‘horse’s mouth’ as they say, the true origin of the name.

Many thanks to Jeff Spencer and the Clwyd-Powys Archeological Trust for the info and photos.

Ferns unfurling

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I did a blog about ferns some years ago, but at this time of year they always look so spectacular as the fronds poke out from what looks like a dead lump of brown crud and slowly unfurl into the graceful leaves that persist for the rest of the year.

Here in no particular order are some shots I took late on Sunday as the sun was going down and the ferns were coming up. Hopefully the cold snap won’t affect them.

Will it really look good eventually?

 

Tight and hairy

tongues

in the grass

early birds

… OK just one more

New venture

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We’ve taken a major step this year by joining in with the Gardeners’ World Magazine 2for1 scheme.  In other words, with one of their cards, two of you get into Nant-y-Bedd for the price of just one of you!  More details are in this month’s Gardeners’ World issue which comes out today!

One of only 23 gardens in Wales, we’re in great company.  Here’s a selection of others: National Botanic Gardens of Wales (not bad for starters, eh?), Powis Castle, Veddw House, Dingle  Garden and Dyffryn Fernant.

So get out there, get your magazine and make the most of the offer!  By the way, you’ll find us on page 60 of the guide or here

For those with a photographer’s eye, the magazine is asking for your favourite shots of participating gardens to be sent in via ‘social media’ to possibly be featured in a monthly round-up of the best shots.

Have we found the Bedd in Nant-y-Bedd?

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After the tremendous storm in November last year which washed away the central part of ‘Daffydd’s Wall’,

Dafydd’s wall, as it was

All gone, after the storm.

we have finally got around to having it rebuilt, by Bruce Rogers.

Bruce’s new wall and Ian’s metal fencing

But that’s not what this is really about.

With the new wall came the opportunity to re-align the fence above it, by the maple and walnut trees.

On the weekend, I pulled out the old fence which was erected by Sue’s Dad about 25 years ago.  I have to say he did a superb job.  The wire fence itself was in first class condition and there were so many staples holding it in place that it took all of Saturday morning just to get the wire loose!  Most of the posts came out easily, but the corner one took a long time and a lot of head scratching before a solution could be found. Inserted to just over 2 feet it was a swine to get out!

The new fence is in line with the wall and so we have gained a bit of extra ‘garden’. Sorry, sheep.

When Sue started to clear the rank growth and hard rush, she came across a couple of large flat stones.  Could this be the Bedd? {Regular readers will know that the name of the house – Nant-y-Bedd – means Stream of the Grave}.   We have wondered for many years about the location of the Bedd and maybe now we’ve found it!

Trying to dig out a mass of hard rush, the spade kept hitting solid rock, just a few centimetres below the surface.  Abandoning the rush removal for a few moments, we started to strip back the soil and there it was, a perfectly flat, large stone – a grave stone?  Carrying on, we found five more big, flat stones covering an area about three yards square – a mass grave?

Mass Bedd or something else???

There seems to be some space under at least one of the stones – it sounds hollow when tapped – but I’m too superstitious to go lifting a gravestone.

We’re going to make a feature of it, maybe with a couple of seats or a bench, where visitors can sit and wonder who is beneath their feet.

Alternatively of course, it could simply be where the generator which supplied the house with electricity before the mains came was situated.  But that would be boring wouldn’t it?

Elf and Safety

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January is a time for getting matters sorted out for the coming season, and one of the things on the (long) list was finding a way to make the bridges safer, particularly after a drop of rain – not that we’ve had much of that recently as my hydro returns clearly show.

When wet, all the bridges become a bit like skating rinks – or ski jumps in the case of the rope one – as algae forms a sort of slimy but invisible surface on the timbers.  The only recourse to a safer crossing is regular scrubbing with detergent (Ecover, of course, so that the stream doesn’t get polluted by normal detergents!).  It’s hard work and time consuming and doesn’t last very long.

We thought about covering them with chicken wire, which you often see on stiles and bridges in the countryside, but rejected that idea as being potentially as hazardous as the algae in the longer term.

A lot of Google searching came up with a company that supplies, among others, the Brecon Beacons National Park. So what works for them must work for us.

A long exchange of e-mails later with the long-suffering Barry – trying to work out the best balance of cost and safety – led to four big packages arriving a week or so ago.  This meant a looong day of scrubbing before a further day or so of screwing!

Beforehand the treads on the bridges looked a bit like this..

Slippery!

Slippery!

… then on to work with the scrubber…

Before and after

Before (bottom) and after

… then on hands and knees fitting the treads.  Here’s the first two..

below the turbine house

below the turbine house

No more slipping for Indiana Jones!

No more slipping for Indiana Jones!

The one by the house however posed a bit of a problem.  The treads have a slightly raised middle, to let water run off more easily.  The width of the non-slip patches meant they didn’t secure sufficiently, so it was back on the phone to Barry who came up with a solution.  Cut the patches in half and put one on each tread rather than alternately.  He arranged to collect them, cut them and return them – all of which took only four days.

new

new “Mini-treads”

After about 650 screws – fortunately self-drilling and self-countersinking! – all was done and Oreo came to inspect.

dscf4356

Who are this wonderful company?  They are called Gripclad (www.gripclad.co.uk) and Barry was as helpful as anyone could possibly be.  Not a cheap option, but the saving in time and effort, plus the peace of mind that visitors will be safe makes it worthwhile. Hopefully it will be a scorching hot summer and they won’t be needed, but we all know what Welsh weather can be like..

Garden booze

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It’s the booze making time of year again.  It all seems to need to be done at once, so this year I’m splitting up the cider making with a bit of grape pressing.

We have had an excellent crop of Tom Putt apples (as recommended by the Marcher Apple Network) this time round – it all depends on the weather at pollination time – but we have also been given a load of what look like mainly cookers by our friend Linda.  The Tom Putt’s weighed in at just under 100lb, though it might have been a lot more if the badger hadn’t spent every night nicking the windfalls.  Linda’s weighed about the same, so we should get around 7-8 gallons in total.  I’ve also done a small amount using just crab apples, either to blend in or as a probably very dry cider.

To do it in this sort of bulk a few bits of kit are preferable.  Firstly a press and secondly a scratter.  Many moons ago I made a wonderfully efficient press, but unfortunately it got lost in the move from Kent to here – I think it got sold erroneously at the farm sale.  So this set up is from Vigo Presses.

So first set up the scratter on the press:

The full works

The full works .. with accompanying H3 tasting vessels

In go the apples, just as they come off the tree or the ground:

...not too many at a time

…not too many at a time

Turn the handle a few (well quite a lot of) times:

keep your fingers out of here when it is going round!

keep your fingers out of here when it is going round!

.. and this is what you get

ready for pressing

ready for pressing

Apply some serious effort to the screw thread and the juice flows.

Bootiful!

Bootiful!

After the juice has finished running, remove the pomace (technical term for this stuff)..

Solids 'cakes' of apple

Solid ‘cakes’ of apple …

…  which then go onto the compost heap

No waste in this process

No waste in this process

Take the pressed juice into the house and place beside the Esse for a week or so until the fermentation  (from the natural yeasts on the skins) has died down.  Depending on quantity now bottle it or store in plastic polypins which deform as the cider is drawn off, keeping air out.

Now comes the final and most difficult bit.  Sit and watch it for a month or six whilst it clears naturally and the flavour develops.

Then, as the old Wurzels song says, “Drink up ye zider, George, there’s still more in the jug”.

Grapes go very much the same way, except for killing off the natural yeasts, which are unreliable for wine, adding fresh yeast and sufficient sugar as there is rarely enough in home grown grapes to make a sufficiently robust wine that will keep.

Another great crop this year of the red, but virtually nothing on the white again.  Its days may be numbered!

Plenty of low hanging fruit

Plenty of low hanging fruit

just over 35lbs ready for the press

just over 35lbs ready for the press

Iechyd da!

Thank you, dormice!

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About a month ago we had a phone call from our friend Mick (he of pond and Cedric fame) asking if we would be interested in hosting a chainsaw course.  Intrigued we asked why.  It turned out that he needed to get his certificates up to date and the original venue for the course was now off-limits.  The reason: dormice!

To cut a long story short, Tom, the tutor, came and had a look and two days later Mick and Mark were being given their instruction.  As you would probably expect I’d laid down a few ground rules:  all brash to be neatly piled up; all felled trees to be cut to exact 4ft lengths (to accommodate 2x 18in for the Esse cooker and 1x 12in for the Handol woodburner).

Over the two days they dropped about 17 trees of varying sizes – most of which they seemed to manage to get ‘hung up’.  All good practice for the future I suppose.

The log piles sat there for a couple of weeks whilst I cleared space in the outdoor woodsheds, then we set to work to get it all up and drying. Most of it went into the lean-to sheds, but there was a significant amount still in the forest. At which point Sue had an “idea”!!

If our experience is anything to go by, pretty much everyone has now got a copy of Norwegian Wood by Lars Myttingwhich must have been last Christmas’ best seller by far. If you haven’t seen it, it is all about cutting, stacking and drying firewood.   One chapter is about different stacking techniques, one of which is the Holzhauzen. Sue decided that we should have a go at making one.

Looks simple on paper!

Looks simple on paper!

First all the cut lengths had to come up from the forest in the transport box on the Fergie.  Fortunately I was able to get close to each stack in turn as there were some chunky bits of timber amongst them.

Some of the cut logs

Some of the cut logs (in the foreground)

In all the Holzhauzen was constructed out of about 95 x 4ft logs of varying widths.  I saved the biggest till last!

This one made the Fergie grunt a bit (and me putting it on the splitter!)

This one made the Fergie grunt a bit (and me, putting it on the splitter!)

It looked a big pile.

Ready for cutting

Ready for cutting

……at which point a couple of 60-somethings had a short rest.

Two old codgers at rest

Two old codgers at rest

Discussions were then held as to the best length to stack them at, and therefore the size of the finished circle.  After trying 3ft lengths, we felt that 18in would be better, with the foot long pieces thrown in the middle.

With me cutting….

.. with the trusty, scary Ferguson saw bench

.. with the trusty, scary Ferguson saw bench

…. and Sue stacking, we soon got into a rhythm and the sides began to rise.

It's on the way

It’s on the way

At this point we got joined by a cat.  Normally, as regular readers will know, Smudge can’t ignore a good work opportunity.  But this time it was Emily who decided to come and check out the quality of the work, departing only for yet another turn at the food bowls, she spent most of the afternoon slowly getting higher off the ground.

Quality control from Emily

Quality control from Emily

Bad light eventually stopped play – the chickens didn’t get their corn again – with just the ‘roof’ to do.

This turned out to be possibly the trickiest bit, but I think we finally got it about right, even though a bit more timber had to be found and another tree dropped.

So here it is.  Not as tall as some in the book, but a bit different from just putting the wood in sheds.

Our own little Holzhausen

Our own little Holzhausen

Thanks to: Dormice, Lars Mytting, Tom, Mick and Mark, Fergie and all his hangers on and Emily for Quality Control!

Fungus Foraging

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Saturday saw 20 or so people descend upon us for a Mushroom Foraging day.  Organised by Liz Knight of Forage Fine Foods and executed by Mark Williams of Galloway Wild Foods, we had an amazing afternoon searching among the trees and along the river bank.

Mark’s knowledge on fungi and how to use them was extensive and amusing as well as being excellent on the palate!

The throng assembles

The throng assembles

After introductions all round, Mark got proceedings underway with a quick dash of elderflower champagne and Sweet Cicely liqueur!

He explained the different ways in which fungi operate and how they work in concert with different types of vegetation and particularly with trees. Different trees have different fungi. Some, such as the highly sought after ceps are impossible to cultivate and will only grow in the wild in the exactly perfect conditions they need.

Setting off into the forest, Mark suddenly stopped and pointed out a couple of mushrooms underneath the Cedric tree sculpture.  These were Cavaliers, edible, but not a great flavour.  The difference in appearance between the newly emerged ones and a couple that had almost ‘gone over’ was remarkable and went to demonstrate how difficult mushroom ID can be.

Cavaliers and Cedric

Cavaliers and Cedric

When doing an ID there are several factors to take into account

habitat

colour

size

type of gills

smell

There are so many types that all these need to be taken into account.

Moving on we came to a big clump of what most of us recognised as Puffballs.  Seizing a couple of older ones Mark flicked the caps and released clouds of spores.  These were no good for eating, but the fresher growths, with marshmallow like interiors are apparently really good in risottos!

Mark with Puffballs

Mark with Puffballs (and foraging cat, Smudge)

As we moved on Liz pointed out various plants like ground elder and Herb Robert which have important roles to play in herbal medicine as well as being good to eat.

Mark had picked up some shaggy inkcaps on the road up to Nant y Bedd and explained how and when to eat them.  Apparently there’s a variety called the Common Inkcap which isn’t actually that common, but shouldn’t be consumed before or after alcohol as it causes a very nauseous response and has been used to ‘treat’ alcoholics!!

Deeper in the woods we found some Orange Grisette under the birch trees, which are good to eat and are often found with birch.  The physical form of the Grisette is very similar to that of the poisonous Fly Agaric, although the latter’s bright red is a bit of a giveaway.  Mark had brought some of these with him and used this as an opportunity to explain the life cycle appearance of many fungi.

Fly Agaric and Orange Grisette

Orange Grisette and Fly Agaric

Honey Fungus is another species associated with birch, among others, and is usually found as the tree dies.  Apparently edible it needs boiling before cooking.  Not sure I’ll try that!

Honey Fungus

Honey Fungus

Heading down to the river, someone spotted a few large mushrooms by the gate under the Lawson Cypress.  Mark had to admit that he’d walked past them twice the day before when he did a recce! It pays to look down when mushroom foraging.  It was a group of shaggy parasols, well camouflaged against the leaf litter.

Shaggy Parasol

Shaggy Parasol

Heading along the river bank we were introduced to the “Native Spice Rack” with plants such as Wild Angelica, Hogweed, Wood Avens, Sweet Woodruff and Meadow Sweet (which apparently cures hangovers – the other way of course is to keep drinking!) In the Spring the very young buds and flowers of Rowan are also useful.  Various tinctures were passed around at this point but I missed most of it as I was lighting fires for the Big Bake Up afterwards.

I did get back into the swing of it just in time to find out about a fungus that may be a cure for prostate problems.  Going by the name of Turkey Tails it is found on decomposing logs of birch and can be made into an infusion.  Mark also showed us something known as Chaga, which comes from growths on birch trees in certain places and is very highly sought after.  (Memo to self: look very carefully at all our old birches)

Turkey Tails

Turkey Tails

Finally we assembled by the pond and whilst Mark and Liz got the cooking pots on the go, we were entertained by Lottie Muir, the so-called Cocktail Gardener, who explained some of her cocktail recipes and asked us to taste them – hard work isn’t it?

Thanks to Mark, Liz, Lottie and all those who came along and enjoyed an excellent afternoon and evening.  Hopefully we’ll be able to host more events like this in the future.

PS:  By an odd coincidence the RHS magazine, The Garden, has just published it’s November issue with an article on “Weird and Wonderful Fungi” with photos by Jonathan Need, who photographed our garden earlier in the year!

PPS:  One of the participants, Ian of FoodiesHeaven blog fame, has also written about the day in more detail than above.  Find it here

 

 

 

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

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Yes, it’s Keat’s time of year again, with the autumn fruit lighting up the misty mornings.

Depending on who you talk to this summer has been:  hot / dry / cold / damp / lovely /grotty – so it’s nice to see some real rewards despite the weather.

The early fruit did quite well, with strawberries overcoming a cold damp spell, which seemed to really suit the raspberries. Possibly the best crop we’ve had, and these were supplemented by loads of worcesterberries and gooseberries, reasonable numbers of blackcurrants and even the plums did OK down above the chicken run.  Sue has made jam from many of these as previously reported.

Now it is the turn of the later ripening species.

We now have three pear trees, which each have about 3 pears on them.  They say that you “plant pears for your heirs” and that is looking pretty much right at the moment.

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The Tom Putt apples are glowing bright red right now, probably redder than for many a year.  They are a bit of an acquired taste and go brown as you are eating them, so it will probably be juice / cider as the outcome for these.  All three trees are well covered.

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We also have two Howgate Wonders which suffer badly from canker, but one of them has a good handful or two of lovely fruit.  Officially a cooker, they are equally tasty as a dessert apple.

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The new James Grieve espalier by the garden entrance gate had two large apples this year which unfortunately got blown off before we could pick them.  Absolutely tremendous flavour though – just finishing one of them off as I type!

The crab apples are fruiting well too.  The red one behind the fence isn’t as good as last year, but even so the deep red makes it a sight to be seen.

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It’s not all hard fruit.  The alpine strawberries have been having a late spurt and often feature at breakfast (if I haven’t got to them before).  This year the birds seem to have left them alone a bit more.

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In the greenhouse the black grapes are almost ready to pick.  Not really for eating, they’ll be vinified in the not too distant future. The white vine suffered scale bug a couple of years ago and may have to be replaced.

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Finally, not specifically a fruit but something to be picked at this time of year, the sichuan pepper has had it’s best crop so far.  By the time I’ve sorted the final picking – removing and discarding the seeds from the husks – there will be three ‘spice jars’ full of aromatic spice just begging to be used in a Chinese stir fry!dscf4220

Birthday venue?

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This weekend we had, amongst others, two groups of visitors who were celebrating birthdays.

On Saturday it was an 80th Birthday, and friends had been collected from all over the country for a black tie dinner, with Scottish Reels(!), just down the road.  They did however find time to spend the afternoon, basking in the sunshine, to enjoy Nant y Bedd.  Not only enjoying the garden but also taking the time to talk with Sue and I about the how, why, where etc. of the garden.  I was even able to give the cricket fan an update on the Test score!

Sunday wasn’t as dry and hot, but we loved having a group of much younger people who had amongst their number a little person who was celebrating her 1st Birthday.  A couple of three year olds really enjoyed the pigs, sheep and the baby ducklings, whilst the birthday girl slept on in the back-pack.

Getting them young as garden visitors is what we need, so hopefully we may see some of them again in about 15 years!

Enjoy your Birthday weekend (Sue did suggest hen party, but I’m not so sure….) with a visit to Nant y Bedd.

Cedric

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At last he has been revealed.  Cedric, the Seed King is now standing at the gate to the forest in all his glory.

The design gets started

The design gets started

Cedric (pronounced seed-rick), the Seed King, symbolises the significance of our way of gardening – working with nature. We encourage the garden to regenerate itself by allowing plants and trees to seed freely and then we ‘edit’ the results. So our garden might appear unmanaged, but really it isn’t.

First cuts

First cuts

The sculptor, Mick Petts (he of the pond design), picked up the design details from the conifer forest at the entrance of which Cedric stands. The diamond pattern replicates the Norway spruce cones, and the beard, needles. The design incorporates spaces so that he can change with the seasons – seed heads can be inserted in his cloak and crown, and the pot in his crown can be switched.

Becks lends a hand with the chisel

Becks lends a hand with the chisel

His features become recognisable

His features become recognisable

The finished article

The finished article

What a wonderful head of hair

What a wonderful head of hair

As one of our garden visitors said on the weekend “I don’t normally like Green Men, but this one looks benevolent, not like most which look really malevolent.”  Praise indeed for Mick’s carving skills.

 

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