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… in full surround sound!!

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You’ve seen the pictures, you’ve read the blog, now you can hear all about it from the Head Gardener herself.  A wonderful new app called Candide features audio tours of many of Britain’s top gardens – so obviously they needed to include us!  You’ll have to download the (free) app, then click on Places. At the moment we seem to be first on the list, if not scroll along to find Nant-y-Bedd.   Why the woodyard photo?  That’s where the tour begins!  Listen and find out why.

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All in all there’s almost thirty minutes of insight, background and commentary across 13 different areas of the garden.  Broken into manageable chunks of no more than 4 minutes at a time, you’ll get a real feel for the garden and how Sue sees it, whether you have been here or not (and if not, why not??!).

Big thanks to Ludo at Candide for getting us into it.  We think this could be the next big thing in promoting garden visiting.

Workshops and Events 2020

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Latest News: Due to the uncertainty surrounding the possible course of the COVID-19 virus and personal health issues, we are currently not intending to open in 2020, nor will any of the proposed workshops take place this year.  

We look forward to welcoming you to Nantybedd Garden in 2021

New for 2020 we have Jessica Tanner with two fascinating topics

Artists Willow Charcoal Making

£60 including all materials, delicious seasonal, organic lunch, tea & cake.

Click here for more details

Wild Weaving

£60 including all materials, delicious seasonal, organic lunch, tea & cake.

Click here for more details

…and some old favourites – book early as they tend to be filled quickly.

Wild Gardening 2020   with Sue

Compost workshops 2020     with Sue

How to make the crumbly brown gold….

£65 (20% RHS Member discount) incl 2-course lunch, tea & cakes. 10.00 to 3.30

Contact us on garden@nantybedd.com to book

Foraging   Led by Liz Knight (Forage Fine Foods)

Liz is so enthusiatic

£75 incl lunch, teas.  10.00 to 2.00

Details/booking at www.foragefinefoods.com

 

Forest Bathing (Shinrin-yoku)     Led by Carina Greenwood

Wood sorrel in the forest sun

Prices £75 full day including lunch, £25 half day

Details at www.forestbathe.co.uk

Booking via Eventbrite

Blueprints 2020

   Led by Ruth Barnes Richards

Blue and beautiful

£55   Materials included.  Bring picnic lunch

Details/booking at www.thedaylightthief.com

Taking the Mystery Out of Plant Diseases 2020   Led by Dr. Mary Barkham

£55  (20% RHS Member discount) including lunch

Details/booking at marymbarkham@hotmail.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Make your own Christmas Wreath at Nant-y-Bedd

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Unfortunately, this workshop is now fully booked.

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

The standard to aim for!

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

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

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

For more details click here:  Christmas Wreath Making Workshop

Too little or too much – the everyday story of a hydro

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I’ve had a lot of conversations with visitors this summer about the level of water needed in the stream to power up the hydro.

Most of the summer there’s barely a trickle in the steam, but give it a couple of nights of torrential downpours and it looks a bit like this. high water in the stream

Unfortunately from a hydro point of view, this is all going to waste.  The system is limited in terms of its capacity to 3kWh and when that is reached it can’t take any more water.  So it is a matter of boom and bust – either not enough pressure to spin the generator or so much that much of it can’t be used.

Oh, for a flexible system that would work at both ends of the spectrum!

 

The Nation’s Favourite Garden?

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

english garden logo

and

NGS logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE

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

One small step

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

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

“one small step…”

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

bare tree at start of project

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

 

drawing of treehouse

“Yes, just like that!”

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

Finley and Mick lay the foundations

Finley gets to grips with the first piece

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

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

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

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

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

first poles in place

It is going to happen!

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

two men and a pole

Carrying onto site

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

the ribcage takes shape

That’s a floor there!

Seasons go on and levels get higher

We can work in the dry now

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

Dan basking in the glory (and sunshine)

nearly finished

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

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

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

 

From this to ….

final view of threehouse

….this

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

Great, isn’t it?

In praise of peas

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Gardens can be colourful and full of flowers OR highly productive vegetable gardens but not particularly colourful or flowery.  Right?  Actually they can be both and the humble pea is a good example of how this can be achieved.

Heritage broad beans, peas and flowers all jostling together in the Potager

Some peas as well as being tasty (one vegetable the grandchildren will eat, raw of course but that’s fine) and highly nutritious can also be a very pretty addition to the garden.  So we can grow peas because they have different coloured flowers as well as producing something edible.  By the way flowers of culinary peas are also edible – but not sweet peas which we grow for the scented flowers.  The shoots and vine tendrils of culinary peas are edible and have the same delicate, pea-like flavour. But only vegetable pea flowers can be eaten. The petals can be added to salads, or cooked slightly and sweetened for a treat.  But not sweet peas flowers – they are poisonous.

I digress.  Here, at 1200 feet in the Black Mountains, we have some challenges in what we can grow due to the shorter growing season and cooler temperatures.  Butternut squash, for example, struggles.  So it’s interesting to look around at what grows in similar conditions elsewhere in the world and also what has been grown traditionally when we were much more dependent for survival on what could actually be grown in our gardens to feed our families. It’s also satisfying and usually successful to grow crops from seeds which a neighbour has given you.

So, coming back to peas, generally they do very well here and this year we are growing a good number which fall into all the above categories.

Let me start with donated seed.  A neighbour, who is a keen veg grower, sowed some pots with Rosakrone Heritage pea but as they had all germinated had far too many so gave us a large pot full.

Checking them out, as we do these days, on the good old inter web I found this description listed with Real Seeds:

Rosakrone NEW
A very unusual heirloom from Sweden, withs beautiful red/pink flowers borne in ‘crowns’ above the foliage. 

It grows to around 4 – 5 foot tall, and looks stunning on a wigwam or peasticks for a decorative feature that also produces lots of tasty peas. Given to us by Vivi Logan, we are delighted to add this to our collection.

Here’s a photo of them this morning.  They are indeed 5 feet tall, very vigorous and the flowers are stunning. We are looking forward to an excellent crop.  The fact that they originated from Sweden and were donated to Real Seeds by a donor in Pembrokeshire is encouraging.  They should do well here.

Rosakrone flowering in the Potager

Other peas also looking good are Ezethas Krombek Blau – a pea we have grown for many years originally acquired from Chase Organic Seeds (now run by Dobies). This also has lovely flowers followed by purple pods which can be eaten as mangetout but also are fine (although not particularly sweet) if you can’t keep up with picking them and they all turn into peas.  I usually have other sweeter peas maturing at the same time so just mix the EKB in with them when cooking and they are fine.

Ezethas Krombek Blau flowering

Purple pods of EKB – edible as mangetout if eaten when flat

We also grow Norli mangetout which are really prolific and we have been picking for weeks.  These have been grown from seed which we have saved from year to year.  Just need to remember to harvest them before the birds do!  Pea and bean seeds if stored in dry conditions will remain viable and will germinate 100% for at least 3 years.  If you store them for any longer than that some will still germinate but the percentage viability tends to reduce.

Norli Mangetout

This year our maincrop peas are Early Onward and Greenshaft, both old varieties that my Dad used to grow.   Greenshaft produces longer pods packed with sweet peas – the kind that win first prize for the longest peas in the village show! Garden writer, Sally Nex says of Early Onward Pea ‘You can eat from the same pea plant all season: tender peashoots in spring, flattened pods as mangetouts shortly after, big fat peas to finish with a few to dry for winter.’

Pea shoots early in the Spring

Just a few words about how we grow peas here with our short growing season and pesky mice which would like to eat them as soon as they are sown!

We grow pea shoots in pots for ease of picking and then once they are at the stage when the shoots are getting a bit tough (after 6 or 7 pickings) we plant them out with hazel sticks to grow them on so that we can save the seeds for the following year.

We sow all other peas early in the year in guttering and then place them in the Garden room which has a little background heat.  As soon as they germinate, they are moved outside still in guttering.  This year EKB and Norli were planted out in the second week in February and the rest the last week. We use our own coppiced hazel sticks for support.

Sowing peas in guttering in the potting shed

Germinated peas moved outside to harden off before planting out – this is in February.

That all seems a long time ago now.  We have been eating pea shoots for months and mangetout for weeks.  Eagerly anticipating the beginning of the pea season.  In the meantime we will be enjoying mangtout tossed in butter and mint for supper…yum.

Mangetout, lightly steamed and tossed in minted butter…

 

 

 

 

Climate Change? What a difference a fortnight makes!

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

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

April showers??

Where’s the daffs gone?

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

Rescued daffs

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

stream in spate

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

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

bracing but lovely.

Sunshine!

 

 

Shinrin-yoku or 森林浴 (Forest Bathing)

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

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

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

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

woodland and river

Idyllic spot for a bit of Forest Bathing

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ian’s Review of the Year – Part 2

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

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

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

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

Harry & Meghan get to know their ‘patch’

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

Not Great Crested – honestly!

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

Who’s a pretty Cuckoo?

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

No comment!

Of course as it was Royal Welsh week it rained!

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

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

Quackers behaving

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

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

Just a very small part of the Sichuan and Hop harvest

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

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

Edible ones – thank goodness

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

“Mum, we’re on the cover!”

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

Hibernation time

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

Chateau Nantybedd

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

Outside the small greenhouse

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

just a few sticks of firewood

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

Jack Frost arrives

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

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

Make your own Holly Wreath in 2019

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

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

Happy 2019 and good gardening to all.

 

 

 

 

Ian’s Review of the Year – Part 1

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

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

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

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

First of the year

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

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

Valentine’s Day birdie

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

Frogs….

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

Path construction

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

Snow … again!!

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

Quick wash and brush up before tulip hunting

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

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

Spring is sprung

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

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

Pixie and Lottie

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

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

Tadpoles .. millions of them

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

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

Hmm, you look a bit prickly to eat!

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

Hazel arches

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

Liz is so enthusiatic

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

How to make the crumbly brown gold….

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

Bill and Ben and lots of their friends

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

from ugly bug to graceful flier

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

food, glorious food!

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s tidy!

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There’s tidy!

“There’s tidy” around here in Wales means something that has got someone’s seal of approval, for example, ‘there’s a tidy-sized marrow you’ve grown there boyo’…but in this article I’m using the word in it’s more usual sense of neat or organised.

Being too tidy in the garden at this time of year in my view, is not always desirable.  A neatly trimmed beech which holds its leaves all winter or a tidily clipped ball of cotoneaster covered in berries are a couple of tidy bits that I can live with.  But even then you have to get the timing of the clipping right or you won’t get the berries…

Sid guards the beech lollipop

Scything off wildflower meadows

Poldark takes a breather!

– or cutting by hand with my trusty Jakoti shears (yes really – the smaller areas) – are necessary to reduce the fertility and also enable us to enjoy the fresh Spring growth particularly is Spring bulbs are naturalised.

But I think we can be too tidy in our gardens.  In my tidier days I used to think that it was a great shame that people didn’t get around to picking their apples and left them on the tree. I have a friend whose children wouldn’t eat them because they had bugs in them.  But of course, blackbirds in particular love apples at this time of year.  Our Tom Putt doesn’t keep well and this year we had a big crop and so we left a couple of handfuls on the trees and the blackbirds are happily helping themselves – they don’t seem to mind the bugs.

Blackbird in an apple tree

My sister has a lovely but quite small garden. A pampas grass has rather outgrown its allotted space and slowly but surely is gradually making its way to Nant-y-Bedd.  The final ‘mother plant’ was due to be evicted this Autumn.  When sister, having cut off the magnificent plumes, parted the vegetation to attack it with her spade she found …a hedgehog happily snuggled away for its winter hibernation, so the spade went back into the shed for another go in the late Spring. I wonder if I could persuade her to let me re-home the hedgehog along with its pampas grass winter home?

But we do feel the need to ‘tidy’ the dahlias – nothing more depressing in November than a bed of frost-blackened former lovelies.

Lovely dahlia

So, once they have been frosted, we cut them down now and mulch with bracken.

We have very free draining sandy soil, so I guess that is how we get away with this method of over-wintering.  In heavier soils gardeners have the labour-intensive task of lifting, storing frost free and replanting in the Spring.   Ours survived the ravages of the winter of 2017/18 without any problem.  We do need to remember to remove the bracken as soon as any green shoots appear in the Spring because the mulch is perfect slug habitat.

We don’t weed too enthusiastically here either, as visitors will know, especially at this time of year. Bare soils in the winter mean that nutrients get leached out of the soil by the winter rains. A covering of weeds is preferable in my view to bare soil. Self-seeding foxgloves, aquilegias’ and sweet rocket, for example, are left in the veg beds to be transplanted in the Spring to where we can enjoy them flowering.

Sweet rocket and aquilegias with unpalatable-to-badgers-alliums (see below)

Hairy Bittercress and Chickweed are allowed to seed and provide winter and early Spring salads – join one of Liz Knight’s Foraging Days here to find out more about delicious weeds. Annual grasses do get weeded out and composted before they can set seed.

I’ve discovered a particularly good winter ground cover completely by accident – Limanthes douglasii (poached egg plant). It is a fantastic early flower for our pollinator friends, it stays a lovely fresh green all winter and it does a great job of supressing other weeds and locking in nutrients and self-seeds prolifically. Bargain!

Self-seeded poached egg plants and forget-me-nots – useful winter ground cover and then masses of cheerful flowers for the bees in the Spring

 

We do rake up leaves in the Autumn and store them in open leaf bins for 2 years to make a lovely friable leafmould. They do it all by themselves with no further intervention from the gardener.  Speaking to a fellow gardener recently about my joy of raking Autumn leaves, I was surprised when she said she didn’t bother, implying “what’s the point?”  I realised that she had only a few apple trees in her highly productive walled kitchen garden – so fair enough. We, on the other hand are not exactly short of trees – the raw material for such a natural and bounteous resource.

Not short of leaves – these are cherry

Some of the flower beds in the cottage garden don’t get too much tidying this time of year though. We do like to leave some of the vegetation and seed-heads to give some interest for us to enjoy through the winter whilst providing snugly-up habitat and food for wild winter visitors.  They are allowed to stay until they get bashed down by whatever the winter weather throws at them and then cut down and put on the compost heap.

 

Iris Siberica developing its Autumn colouring

 

 

Teasels are left standing in the Potager

 

We’ve tidied up the pots of summer flowering things and some are now in the greenhouse for their protection – for example lavender.  I have discovered over the years that lavender does not like over-wintering at 1200 feet in a high rainfall area.  Not surprising really for a plant that would much prefer to be growing in the sun-soaked Med rather than rain-soaked Wales.  Other pots go into the greenhouse as much for the protection of the pots as what’s in them.  I have killed off many terracotta pots over the years – even the ones that are supposed to be frost-proof.

So, we have fewer pots left outside for the Winter but tougher ones – many recycled from other uses such as galvanised water tanks or washing coppers.  We are planting most of our Spring bulbs in pots this year.  More time consuming, but hopefully it will confuse and delay our voracious local badger(s) who seem amazingly partial to a tulip bulb or sixty or failing that any hyacinths that might be about.

M2E45L0-13R350B362

Fortunately, they don’t go for naturalised snowdrops or daffodils and they tend to spit out any alliums that have the misfortune to be collateral damage.  Their noses are unbelievable, we’ve tried coating them in most things smelly and covering them with wire mesh – the bulbs not the badgers noses! – but nothing works.

 

Fortunately, the badger doesn’t like daffs

 

So, most of the hyacinths and tulips go into large pots – not always badger-proof but at least some do survive.  And rather than look at bare soil in the pot over the winter before the bulbs appear – tidier granted – here are a few things that we do for a bit of winter interest:

Iris reticulata in a ferny mossy hanging basket 6 foot off the ground in a shady spot – so we get to enjoy the ferns and mosses from the kitchen window over the winter and surely no badger could reach those?

Tulips planted among the dead seed heads of achiliea and self-seeded molinia in a heavy ‘copper’.Looking so ‘structural’ that I couldn’t bring myself to take them out.

Mexican daisy, thrift and bugle in this pot now underplanted with hyacinth Woodstock

Mexican daisy and ox-eye daisy with mallow which will be supplemented with hare’s tail grasses (in pots in the cold frame over winter) in the Spring. Lily Lady Alice in this copper too. With lots of tulips. Not much to look at now but the plants will put down good roots over the winter and when the tulips have flowered, we just remove them.

 

There’s Tidy!

 

 

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!

Visitor Survey

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As another garden opening season come to a close – amid lashing rain and winds – we thought it would be interesting to ask you, our lovely visitors, which parts of the garden you most enjoyed.

We know from our conversations, from the wonderful comments in the Visitors Book and the return and ‘recommended’ visits we get, that we are doing something right, but it would be nice to know what particular aspects of the ‘experience’ make the strongest impression.

It’s just a bit of fun really and your preferences will be totally anonymous, so get voting.

There are other ways of growing vegetables

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Vegetables need to be grown evenly spaced in straight rows surrounded by bare soil. Some gardeners feel the need to lavish them with chemicals to make them grow bigger and spray them with yet more chemicals to stop pests devouring them.

Here, at Nant-y-bedd garden we don’t do any of the above and yet we still managed to win the First Prize and Challenge cup at the local Llanthony Show for the Most Productive Vegetable Garden for the second year running.

So how do we grow vegetables here?  Here’s one view of our ‘vegetable garden’…

the onion beds

There are a few basic rules that apply to any system of growing veg organically and we follow these:  get to know your soil and growing conditions and look after your soil;  rotate crops to reduce the risk of pests and diseases affecting your crops; use organically-approved methods of dealing with those pests and diseases.  None of this is particularly earth-shatteringly different.  Any gardener keen to produce tasty, fresh veg with the minimum of artificial inputs would be doing the same.

However, some of what we do here challenges devoutly-held perceptions of what constitutes good gardening practice.

Top of the list is that we ’embrace our weeds’.  We do this for a number of reasons and in a variety of ways.  Ground elder, Hogweed and Rose Bay Willowherb, for example, are undoubtedly not what you want in your veg beds because they are invasive if not controlled but the insect pollinators on which we depend love them, so we allow them to have their place around the veg beds.

Heritage bean Blue Coco in the foreground with Rose Bay Willowherb in the ‘path’

We don’t weed out self-sown seedlings just because we didn’t sow them there.  If they are not compromising the crop they can stay because the bees like them/they look pretty/they confuse the pests looking for the crops/we eat them – any or all of these reasons apply.

 

Celery inter-planted with leeks and self-sown purple toadflax

Poached egg plant self-sown providing Winter and Spring ground cover with foxglove and teasels

Onions, sorrel, hawkweed and wood spurge

We save our own seed thereby over time developing our own strains of veg which are best adapted to our growing conditions rather than buying seed from a supplier where the seed may have come from an area with very different growing conditions.

Red cabbage allowed to set seed

Munchen Bier radish grown for its edible seedpods and for seed collection

Runner bean ‘Scarlet Emperor’ grown from our own seed for many years

We do follow basic crop rotation rules but also favour inter-planting to make maximum use of the available space, look more interesting and possibly confuse the pests…

Calendula and carrots

Chard, courgettes, lettuce and chicory

We have other favourite ways of foiling pests – for example, ducks and copper for slug control and netting and collars to protect brassicas.

Ducks eat slugs. Our resident Black East Indies in the Potager

Not pretty – but effective – netting against cabbage white butterflies and felt collars

Copper rings protecting courgette plants from slugs

As well as saving our own seeds, each year we try different Heritage varieties to seek out those which might do well here.  We belong to the Heritage Seed Library.  The greatest success this year has been discovering the Climbing French Beab ‘Blue Coco’ which we have been picking all summer.  We will save the seed and grow it again but of course the weather this year has been exceptional – perfect even here at 1200 feet in the Black Mountains for growing French beans – next summer might be very different!

Heritage Climbing French bean ‘B;ue Coco’

Veg basket includes Heritage varieties Dwarf Borlotti and Crimson-flowered broad bean

Monarda and flowering celeriac in the foreground with teepees of Heritage beans Black Pod and Czar

We eat our weeds too – it’s called ‘foraging’ but that’s the subject of a future blog…

Ground elder flowering. Did you know that you can eat it?

Oh yes, and we are growing our veg the ‘no-dig’ way these days – putting a layer of compost on top of the soil to avoid disturbing the magical networks which operate in the top layers of the soil about which we know so little.  Mimicking, in effect, how ‘nature’ does it.

Perhaps I’ll add a new workshop to the Nant-y-bedd Programme for 2019 – ‘Introduction to veg growing Nant-y-bedd style’?  Let us know if you would be interested.

 

 

Gardening in the wild – the inspiration

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We’ve opened our garden to the public for a number of years now.  In 2017 we were invited to open with other gardens for the Gardens in the Wild Festival – a Herefordshire initiative – and as we’re only 3 miles as the crow flies from the border between Monmouthshire and Herefordshire (although we are in fact in Powys) it seemed to be a good idea.  After all ‘gardening in the wild’ is what we do here…

Gardens in the Wild Festival

Good.  But this prompted me to start thinking about what exactly is it I mean by ‘gardening in the wild’.  Well, we all know what gardening is, don’t we?

what is ‘gardening’?

A definition I like goes like this ‘traditional gardening is a means by which we attempt to control plants and get them to do what we want’. This comes from a very inspiring book called “Cultivating Chaos’ which, unsurprisingly takes a bit of a different view on the matter.

Cultivating Chaos – a different take on gardening

So, if instead of trying to hard to control plants we allow them to do a bit of their own thing, is that ‘wild gardening’?  So is ‘mind-your-own- business’ romping away in my greenhouse un-tended by the hand of the gardener ‘wild gardening’?

‘mind-your-own-business’ going ‘wild’

Or do the plants have to be ‘wild’?  Helpfully some people, cleverer than me, have also been thinking about this question of the Wild Garden.  William Robinson, in his book on the subject in 1870, came up with a definition ‘placing plants of other countries as hardy as our hardiest wildflowers in places where they will flourish without further care or cost’  Sounds helpful.  But, of course, in those uncomplicated times they also dug up wildflowers to plant in their gardens and give to friends, and spread seeds from the windows of trains…

William Robinson’ had a few things to say on the subject

I rather like some of the things that Noel Kingsbury has to say in his introduction to the afore-mentioned ‘Cultivating Chaos’.  He talks of  ’embracing plants that self-seed is part of becoming a manager of nature rather than a controller’.  ‘Gardening is now much more about an accepting of spontaneity. Dynamic change and chance play important roles in this process, as do the choice of plants and the willingness to work with forces that are outside our control’.

Also in this book (which, you may already have gathered, I find rather inspiring) I came across a gardener by the name of Henk Gerritsen.  So I bought his book “Essay on Gardening’.

Henk Gerritsen’s ‘Essay on gardening’ – recommended reading

(Dear reader – please note how cleverly I photographed the cover of hawkweed and knapweed growing in a grassy sward against my own grassy sward including hawkweed and knapweed – under the washing line in fact!)

Piet Ouldolf wrote the foreword. Here’s a quote from that:

(Henk’s) way of gardening certainly contributed to my abandoning those strict rules about what was and wasn’t allowed.  During our discussions…about what an ideal garden should look like, matters were raised that were rarely discussed in books.  We talked about spontaneity (that word again), about which plants would fit into our image of an ideal garden:  they had to be plants that visitors would think had simply walked out of nature but which also knew how to behave… dead plants weren’t ugly either… we thought that seeds and seedheads were fantastic and they were beneficial to the birds and other inhabitants of the garden.  After all these years, our idea of a perfect garden is exactly the opposite of the traditional idea, the maintenance of which required pulling our all the stops.’

This book is ‘an appeal to think about our relationship with nature and about how we give our gardens something of this nature’.

So, my inspiration about Wild Gardening comes from books?  Well, no, not really.  The greatest inspiration is what nature herself gets up to without a hand of a gardener in sight. Hera are a few examples from the garden here at Nant-y-bedd.

Rose bay willow herb and pendulous rush in the woodyard

Swathes of beautiful and pollinator-friendly ground elder in the Potager

 

Ground elder again with oriental poppies and alliums in the cottage garden

 

Buttercup, Herb Robert and speedwell on the riverbank

And this is how Nature did foxgloves in the forest near our garden in 2016

Nature doing it’s thing big time

So the foxglove example is a useful one to remind us to look at Nature for our inspiration.  Foxgloves germinate with ease in my garden in bare soil in the onion beds once the onions have been harvested. It’s a great way to create a stock bed of healthy plants to transplant elsewhere in the garden.  Some are allowed to stay along with linaria, parsnip and ox-eye daisies much to the concern of some ‘tidy’ garden visitors.  We still managed to win the Challenge Cup for “most productive Vegetable Garden’ at the Llanthony Show last year.

Foxgloves et al in the onion beds

And then, of course, there are wild ‘styles’ of gardening which don’t necessarily feature wild or native plants, not to mention the benefits to wildlife of this approach…

If you are interested enough to want to find out more about how we do ‘Wild Gardening’ here at Nant-y-bedd Garden you might consider booking onto the workshop I’m running here on the 24th September 2018.

 

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.

“The answer lies in the soil!”

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That’s what I seem to remember was always the answer that the likes of Percy Thrower and his ilk used to trot out on Gardeners Question Time in the old days.

….. well maybe, but it’s what you put into the soil that is what makes it so good.

With that in mind Sue held the first of her Compost Making and Using courses here at Nantybedd Garden today.   A dozen trusting souls reached deep into their wallets and diced with the timber lorries to spend nearly six hours talking about … Compost!

So great was the anticipation that the ‘car park’ was full a good 20 minutes beforehand – maybe lured by the smell of Sue T’s scrumptious cake with the early morning tea.

Eventually they settled down to discuss why they felt they needed help.  It seemed to be a long talk.

Getting into the swing of it

This was followed by a presentation of the do’s and dont’s, the sources of learned composting and how ’tis done here at Nant y Bedd.

Fortunately the delicious quiches for lunch were a bit delayed as the discussion around the slides ran over by quite a bit!

Lunch included not only the aforementioned quiches, with our own eggs and some interesting foraged ingredients, a salad largely gleaned from the garden and yet more scrummy cakes, this time from that multi-talented gardener/ painter and cake maker Caroline.

The spread!

 

Chance to chat over lunch

After lunch there was an opportunity to work off the excesses on a tour of the various compost heaps around the garden and an indication of how and where to use compost, leaf mould and other such mulches.

The “FC Bin” awaiting pumpkins

Needless to say the cats got in on the act, with Smudge rounding up stragglers and Oreo hitching a lift.

With perfect timing, Sue rolled back the cover on one of the heaps and there was ….

… a slowworm, enjoying the warmth

But it wasn’t all theory.  Over the last few weeks I’ve been instructed to place piles of ‘stuff’ up in the pig field.  Now I know why!  The assembled company was asked to help in constructing a ‘windrow’, a sort of open compost heap.

Here’s how you do it!

After this it was back to the garden room to discuss what was learnt.  A Nant y Bedd Garden postcard was issued to all present, along with a pencil, to record the three things that each participant would be doing in the future to make better compost.

A bit more tea and a (futile) attempt to finish off the cakes and the assembled cast was given a sachet of QR Compost Activator to go home with – but only after they had visited the plant stall and bought a compost duvet or two.

If you think this is for you, there’s another course booked on 27th June with a few places left and one pencilled in for September.  Get in touch, now.

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