Sunday, 15 September 2013

Late Summer Images

The Garden in Rainy Valley is speeding towards Autumn now.  The air is full of  mist and woodsmoke and the trees are definitely beginning to change colour.
 We have begun to cut down the wild flower patch - its hard work, we managed about a third of it today, finding that we don't really have the ideal tools to get to grips with it despite having a scythe, a slasher and a pair of reasonable shears.

There's still some lovely colour around though:

Sunday, 8 September 2013

a Botanic Learning Experience?

I love idea of botanic gardens and am unavoidably drawn to them. This may be down to much of my childhood being spent at Kew picnicking with my parents, or it may be that the geek in me desperately wants my interest in gardens and all things botanical to blossom into something oh so much more intellectual and academic, whatever the root cause, the outcome is that I can rarely pass a botanic garden by.

So I was happy to go off to revisit the National Botanic Garden of Wales (NBG) earlier this summer, as I hadn’t been there for a number of years and was keen to explore.

In their paper Environmental awareness, interests and motives of botanic gardens visitors: Implications for interpretive practice1, Roy Ballantyne, Jan Packer and Karen Hughes describe the purposes of botanic gardens as conservation and education, but also acknowledge the huge role they play in tourism. I wasn’t aware until I started reading around the subject that “visiting gardens” is the 4th most popular reason for tourists to visit the UK!

The implication is that botanic gardens are as much a tourist attraction as an educational resource, and NBG certainly felt as if tourism was top of it’s list of purposes during my visit.

It's an undeniably beautiful place with a stunning setting deep in the Carmarthanshire countryside. Carefully thought out with lovingly restored old stone buildings, incredible views and surprises around every corner NBG delivers pleasure in well, spade loads. As you enter the garden through the gate house you are immediately swept into a sea of options – what to do, where to go, what to see. I think you have to see the garden as a range of different rooms one after the other – it doesn't really quite run together as a whole, and I don't think that matters as such and its a lovely wander as you take in giant wicker sculptures, a pool full of shimmering metal fish, restored walled gardens, pebble lined rills designed to echo the nearby river Tywi, swathes of wildflowers, dry gardens, wet gardens, Japanese inspired gardens, lakes and behind all that, wonderful rolling meadows
where you could play all day. There are all sorts of side exhibitions that would fascinate and inform children, particularly the very young such as the bee garden where you can watch honey bees at work, and the fungi exhibition in the Great Glasshouse, a huge “of the hill, not on the hill” Frank Lloyd Wright inspired glass structure that gives a space age feel to the garden.

So for a day out, lovely, especially on a warm bright sunny day, and for youngsters, yes it's educational, no doubt about it.

However, for people like me, who know a little and want to learn more, what does NBG deliver beyond the “lovely day out”? My answer really is not enough. I came home with planting ideas and lists of plants to investigate, and wonderful images, but throughout the garden I felt short changed on information. There just wasn't enough for me to get my teeth into. Their wild flower display was wonderful and filled me with awe when compared to my grassy awful year one attempt here at home, but did they tell me what they had done to get to that point? How long it had taken? Even what the individual plants were? No!

The Great Glasshouse showcases micro climates from round the world showing plant diversity in threatened habitats. When this exhibition was originally set up it was fascinating, but over the years the facts around such rare threatened climates have become more widely understood, and I would now enjoy more focus on our own threatened landscapes and eco-systems, the importance of native species, an exhibit about sustainability and food production in the UK, and more, far more on the history of gardens and gardening and the native flora and fauna of Wales.

I acknowledge that lots more goes on beyond the day to day opening of the garden, but most visitors will never be able to get there to experience the range of specialist classes and courses on offer – they need to access what they can on their occasional visits.

This slight feeling of being unfulfilled by the visit is exacerbated by the garden centre that doubles as an exit. It appears (forgive me NBG if I am wrong) to be just a commercial garden centre. It doesn't sell plants from the garden and the proceeds of anything you spend in there doesn't seem to go to NBG.....what a missed opportunity!

Will I go back – of course, often. Should you go? absolutely. But it's more a day out than a learning experience.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Sleepy Bees

The last few weeks have been full of family events and business that has stopped me blogging.  During this time we have had scorching weather for a couple of weeks and now good old UK summer weather.  Hot muggy, very high humidity and then torrential rain, thunder and lightening and gales.  This mad weather has of course taken its toll on the garden, which is now very overgrown, green and ......flat.  There is a lot to be done to try to resurrect the garden for late summer.
The vegetables have done well, we have had kilos of peas and haricot vert  and salad leaves, the runners are coming and the sunflowers are six foot high.  H found copious quantities of Deer droppings in one corner of the garden this morning, surprisingly not where we see them coming in normally, so we will have to see whether the garden and the Deer can live in harmony, we're not keen on the idea of stopping them coming through the garden unless we really have to.
We have a large swathe of Goldenrod (Solidago sp, Asteraceae) growing on our roadside verge and we have noticed how much the bees love it.  Looking at it this evening it was smothered by very slow moving sleepy Bumbles - is it the weather, the end of the season or does the golden rod pollen make then dopey?  Ideas in the comments section please - would love to know what you think!

Friday, 12 July 2013

Garden Progress Report

Summer is here.  It's official. We have had temperatures touching 30 degrees all week, and the garden and I are loving it.  The vegetable patch is growing so fast that I think if you sit for a day and just watch it you could honestly almost see it grow; sunflowers are heading skywards and have grown centimetres in just a few days, pea pods are appearing in their 10's daily, and the beans would grace a nursery rhyme no trouble at all.  We planted Asparagus Peas, Lotus tetragobolonus and they have germinated and are developing into nice stocky little plants which should provide an interesting stir fry ingredient - a mange tout type pea pod with a ridged appearance and asparagus like flavour.  I had some cucumber plants thrust on me "because otherwise they were going on the compost heap" a few weeks ago, and although I didn't think I really had space for them nor any great urge to grow cucumbers I did plant them and they are doing very well.  Apparently you can grow them up canes rather than trailing along the ground tying them in hard as they grow, so I am trying this and so far so good.  The same kind person also gave me tomato plants which are thriving in with the herbs. The aubergines and peppers  are also doing really well, but are still tiny plants which will need to be kept inside over the winter to have any chance of them producing next year.

The rest of the garden is taking on that overblown muddled mid summer feel that gives you permission to give up on the weeding on the basis that you will spoil everything else while trying to get to the weeds.  The Crocosmia and day lilies are about to flower too.
 We decided to leave the wildflower patch alone in all its awfulness to give it a chance to establish for next year, and we have removed the top of the protectors from the fruit trees letting the leaves and branches relax more.  I will post an update about the trees in the next few days, but so far so good.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Visiting Veddw

We visited Veddw at the weekend, the Monmouthshire garden created by Anne Wareham and her photographer husband Charles Hawes.

I have to say that I didn’t want to visit almost as much as I did. I first read about Veddw a year or so ago and was intrigued but I was put off visiting as I read a comment rightly or wrongly attributed that said that Ms Wareham has a very jaded view of people who visit her garden so I thought well, I’m not visiting if you don’t want me there! So I didn't go.
However, Veddw is only 5 miles from home, others have described it to me as inspirational and after reading more about it in the book Discovering Welsh Gardens I decided that Sunday was the day to be inspired.
I am always worried when I decide to visit an open garden, fearing that I am going to find a grand stately pile being shown off with well meaning but unaware visitors who would dismiss out of hand my worries around accessibility and inclusivity if I tried to raise them. For this reason I avoid NGS gardens even although I sometimes would like to look. it just makes me feel too uncomfortable.

So it was with some trepidation that I approached my visit to the Veddw. The first thing we saw was a sign on the gate telling us not to bother if we had a problem with weeds. H visibly brightened stating "ha! oddball - good!" and marched purposefully through the gate. No deterrent there then. Once in the garden I was hugely reassured by the house - it's just a house and in respect of the garden and the garden visitors its of absolutely no account, not a stately pile, not on show, quite the opposite, a cottage typical of the area, like our own house and private - you're here to see the garden. Just the garden. I like that a lot. I equally like the transparency and honesty of the contract between visitor and owner, the garden is opened to pay for its up keep, come, pay, look, then go away; no tweeness which is very refreshing indeed. The next positive is the freedom; you've come, so look around, explore. When we paid Anne our entrance fee I asked if there was anywhere we shouldn’t go and she seemed puzzled and amused by my question – seeming to ask why would there be anywhere that’s off limits? It is certainly a garden made for exploring, for hiding and dreaming in, full of quiet corners, secret pathways and small rooms each with its own atmosphere and character, a small child’s ideal magic garden full of adventures and dens and places to play imaginary games.
The handout given to visitors states that visitors who understand the Veddw are welcome. Do I understand? Only the owners can say whether my perceptions and thoughts match their own, so its impossible to judge my level of actual understanding - but I know what I think which is what I will share here.
At the Garden in Rainy Valley we are trying to do several things in a very minor way - support wildlife, make the garden be at one with its environment, and take the garden back to a point where it acknowledges its own history. I think that Veddw works towards at least two of these aims overtly and one by natural consequence if not by wholehearted intention.

Veddw must support wildlife, the garden was alive with bees when we visited, but I'm not clear whether or not it's meant to particularly, I don't think it's why it's there, if that makes any sense.
Veddw sucks its environment in and throws it back out again. huge sweeping beech hedges echo the hills, small box hedge parterre are a parody of the fields. history is acknowledged in the parterres, the artful reconstruction of a ruined cottage complete with excavated "artefacts" displayed “Wittgenstein's grave" style in a heap atop a stone wall, and in the veggie patch that is no longer (a veggie patch).
The garden is built in a bowl and wherever you stand the unapologetic structures within the garden have the mirror image of the local environment as a backdrop. the effect is really quite breath taking, and walking into Veddw across a ridge above the garden you do exactly what I think the designer intended, you stand and stare as the garden rolls out below you, a patch work of ideas and symbolism that forces you to think. Is it a wild garden? An adaptation of a formal classical design, in parts Greek or Roman or is it simply a mad incredible wonderful imaginary place bought to life?

There are things that I don’t like, but as with anything visual its so personal that others will love them so they hardly merit comment except possibly the formal pool with its black dyed water to create a sharp mirror image - clever idea, but I find the opaque black water sinister. Not for me. 
Even on a short visit it becomes apparent that this is a garden that will support multiple visits as you just don’t see everything at once and the approach to the planting – big, mad, wild swathes of single variety seasonal rumbustiousness means that nothing will ever be the same twice. This isn’t a garden tamed into a manicured chocolate box image that will be pin perfect and the same year after year - its alive in a way so many large formal gardens are not.
So, do I understand? - I haven't a clue. Do I appreciate the visual impact of what I found - absolutely, and I'm glad I've had the opportunity to look. So I'm sorry Anne, I know I committed the sin of telling you your garden was beautiful, but it is, and you're just going to have to live with it! 
 Anne Wareham blogs about Veddw at and


Sunday, 30 June 2013

Understanding importance and usefulness.

A few days ago Jean from "Jeans Garden" admired one of my photos and asked what the striking blue geranium in the picture was. My response was along the lines of "oh that's just a plain old Johnson's Blue" - in other words a very common geranium indeed.

A day or so later I found myself enjoying one of the warmest sunniest days of the year so far, and was sitting on the grass next to the Johnson's Blue Geranium  -, looking at it with fresh eyes, thinking how vibrant it really is when I noticed to my delight that it was absolutely covered with Bumble Bees - about 20 at the time I looked.  Creating a habitat for Bumble Bees is very high on my list of priorities for the garden, so I was thrilled as you can imagine. 
So pause a second with me and take in the loveliness of my very special, life enhancing, Bee supporting Johnson's Blue!

Whilst I'm on the theme of not taking things at face value, I will ask you all what you think I should do about my wildflower meadow.  I was told, yes I know I know, that patience is required to grow a wildflower meadow and that it would look awful in the first year.  Trying to alleviate the awfulness I planted annual seed alongside the perennial in the hope of producing a better year one display.  But really - look at it:
There are flowers in there down low below the copious grass, mostly pink geraniums.  H keeps trimming the edges (a subversive attempt to do away with it all together I think!) and we have even mowed a path through it, but it now looks worse than the pasture in the next field.  Shall I hang on in there or mow it flat and see if it looks better next year? Does it have hidden qualities that I'm not recognising? Decisions decisions........

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Long time no blog

I woke up to find this morning that my blog has been nominated as a "blog of the month" by "Jeans Garden"  Jean blogs about her garden, also a clearing in the woods, but in Maine USA rather than damp South Wales.    Despite the distance between our respective plots I see many similarities, the woodland location, a love of traditional cottage garden perennials and an interest in gardening as part of social history.  I have added a link to Jean's blog in my reading list, so take a trip to Maine when you have some time.
The summer continues here as we have come to expect.  A few hot sunny days then wet wet wet.
Things are coming on quite well though. Work has prevented me from blogging recently so, time for an update.
The vegetable plot is establishing itself, with the herbs over their initial shock of a soil change looking green and happy and everything else doing OK so far.

 The main cottage garden border has come on leaps and bounds and our initial worry that we had been over enthusiastic with our winter clearances have been dispelled - as we hoped clearing out all the old shrubs has given the perennials a chance to re-establish and come into their own.  It's a bit green at present but will hopefully get brighter later if we get at least some sun.  The naturalized foxgloves are wonderful though and suit the garden really well:

Our embryonic orchard seems to be happy; all the trees are in leaf and have had at least some blossom.  The winter Nellis Pear was covered in blossom - but that tree is a year older than the others.  It remains to be seen whether they try and set any fruit this year, and if they do whether I am able to be very self controlled and take it off to allow the trees more time to mature before they have to work so hard.
Winter Nellis Pear
The protectors we put round the saplings are doing their job - no Deer damage yet, but they will soon be too small.  H is off on a stock fencing course later this month and I hope he will want to practice his new skills!

Sapling will soon need a new protector

Old fashioned climbing Rose improved by pruning

Our Wisteria continues to take me by surprise - its such a huge larger than life  plant - some thing that belongs in a "real" garden.  From this you will conclude that I don't think I have a real garden - well to be honest its taking some getting used to, and my toes still curl with pleasure every time I open the front door and find all this floating above me!

Sea Thrift thriving in the wall

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Going Home

I had to work late yesterday, with my last meeting ending at 20.30.  As I drove home the sun was setting across the estuary, and despite the long day all was good in the world as I realised, that at long last I'm right where I want to be.  Way out west where the sun sets.  There's a place in the world for everyone - it just takes a while to get there sometimes.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

May Bee Walk

A fantastic warm Spring day today perfect for our May Bee Walk.  Starting in the middle of the day the conditions were perfect for bees coming out of hibernation:  the weather was warm, sunny, and windless, and at long last there's a good range of  plants and flowers emerging so I was very hopeful that today there would be more bees - and there were, compared to March (no bees) and the single figures of April - but still only 13.    One of that 13 though was the biggest, most beautiful Red-tailed Queen which cheered me up no end. 
The photos tell more of the story:

I think given another few days of warm weather and the bees will be doing just fine - lets hope so. 

Monday, 13 May 2013

Summer was last week

Well, this weekend was characterised by rain.  Sheets of rain.  Cold rain.  Things are happening though.  The carrots and the aubergines have germinated and the leeks seem to have taken nicely. The raised vegetable bed is beginning to look more used with the herbs adding a touch of green to the expanse of empty soil.  Our Winter Nellis Pear, a year older than the other trees we have planted is in blossom, and the Wisteria is in flower.
Still not many bees in the garden, due I think to the rain as there is plenty of fruit blossom about.  but, the valley has sprung into life over the past two weeks and everywhere you look is green green green!

Last weekend was glorious and we walked up into the woods above the house to see how the bluebells are doing; at the time they weren't out very much but it was still so beautiful up there: