Garden diary

Pruning and sowing: February marks a beginning

 

February is (usually!) the last month of winter and as such it is the last opportunity to complete all winter work. We have been busy at Allt y bela clearing existing borders, creating new borders, completing the pruning of the fruit trees and bushes throughout the garden and of course we have stepped up our work in the kitchen garden. 

Having never pruned quince or medlar before, I approached this task with some trepidation, but as these fruit trees are closely related to apples and pears I soon found my confidence. I learned that quince especially tends to produce a constant flush of epicormic growth that needs to be substantially thinned or completely removed every year.  Both quince and medlar have a tendency to grow 'into themselves' and need to be confidently pruned in order to clear the centre. I am interested to see the fruit that these trees will bear this year and how storing the medlar will be best approached as it needs to be 'bletted', a process of letting it ripen in a cool place until soft and brown.

Over the course of the month we have continued to cut and clear the remaining plant material from the herbaceous borders, which has, we hope, helped to protect the plants from the worst of the winter weather. In addition, we have increased the size of some borders to accommodate more plants and formalised the edges of others with stone. The process of clearing and weeding borders is one of the aspects of horticulture I enjoy the most. It can be daunting if you are approaching a border that has not been touched for a significant amount of time (I once had the task of renovating a garden that had not been worked on for over three years), however, the process of removing and clearing the borders and preparing the ground for the coming growing season builds to a sense of anticipation.

February is also the month that ushers an increased pace in the vegetable growing calendar. Having prepared the soil in December and initiated the planting with garlic and broad beans, the first significant tranche of crops can be sown in February. To help schedule sowing I prepare a box/seed tray with dividing panels that separate the container into monthly labelled sections. Organising seed into the section that corresponds to the month it can be sown the earliest, allows me to rationalise the work. 

With the recent and ongoing very cold and wet weather, we have had a 'false-start' to the season, with the broad beans not initiating growth in the cold frame and needing to be placed in the hot-box.  We'll be monitoring the weather over the coming couple of weeks before deciding on how to progress and I look forward to keeping you updated.

Words: Rhys Griffiths, Head Gardener, Allt y bela

Photographs: William Collinson

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January 2018: A new head gardener

 

In late November 2017 I stood, discussing the garden with Arne, on the bridge spanning the stream that circles the garden here at Allt y bela. As we talked a kingfisher darted into view, idled for a moment, before disappearing downstream. Witnessing such a rare sight I began to realise the significance of this garden's relationship with the wider landscape and its abundance of wildlife.

I trained as an environmental conservationist, and my interest in cultivated plants and their place in the natural world came as a result of studying 'rewilding' as part of my degree. In response to the loss of wild areas and the over-use of aggressive farming techniques over the past 50 years, including an over-reliance on chemicals to combat pests and diseases, we are now returning to traditional methods of land management to encourage native species to thrive and biodiversity to increase for the benefit of all organisms. Ancient woodland management practices such as coppicing, pollarding and hedge-laying are now being employed to provide and safeguard habitats so that both native and introduced species can thrive.

This interest in understanding how effective land management can assist people to work with the environment has led me to horticulture. I trained at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, developing a keen interest in glasshouse management, before moving to Aberglasney Gardens for a traineeship in Heritage Horticulture. Among other things, this gave me valuable traditional kitchen garden training which I am now employing at Allt y bela.

For many years, the perception of gardeners and garden designers was one of forced precision, promoting the idea that man can impose its will on the environment to achieve perfection. Fortunately, trends in landscape and planting design have in more recent years embraced the idea that garden and landscape design and management should work in conjunction with nature to achieve a more relaxed aesthetic. As gardeners, we are often still striving for perfection, but perhaps now there are a few frayed edges.

Allt y bela offers a unique chance to hone my skills as a gardener while learning about how the formal garden design process can work in an ancient, natural environment. The late autumn start has given me an uninterrupted view of the bones of the garden here, its structure laid bare, showing both its strength and its areas for development. For me winter is perhaps the most important time of year in the garden - it's a period of planning, preparing the earth and sowing seeds that will yield an abundance of blooms and produce later in the year.

I hope to channel my enthusiasm and experience in horticulture into the development of a garden that we can all be proud of and that you will enjoy reading about.

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Words: Rhys Griffiths, Head Gardener at Allt y bela

Rhys is pictured on the right with Arne and Thistle in the woodland at Allt y bela.

Photograph © William Collinson

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A fond farewell

I'm sitting on my favourite blog-writing bench at the top end of the kitchen garden looking back down the main path to the cottage garden. It's a good spot because it's tucked up out of the way but it still gives a great view of the garden and the wider landscape. The concept of a protected, private growing space is almost as old as gardening itself and perhaps explains, at least in part, my choice.

This week my feelings are rather conflicted, autumn is a time of change in the garden and this week it is for me personally as well. This is my last week gardening at Allt y bela. It's very hard for me to sum up my experiences here over the last three years; as with any gardening job there have, of course, been some disappointments and a fair share of hard graft but my overriding feeling is one of privilege and gratitude. I've learned so much and gained in confidence over my time here. I have been incredibly fortunate throughout my career in horticulture to work in some extremely beautiful places with some incredibly talented people.

Allt y bela is less of a garden and more of a family and I have come to rely on the good people here a great deal. I will miss those I have worked with even more than the beautiful garden. I'm not going to list everyone who has supported me here because it would be rather tedious for you to read, suffice to say they know who they are and they will always have my deepest gratitude.

I would also like to thank you, for reading and supporting this diary; it's been a real pleasure to write and to have time to reflect on this ever-changing and wonderfully evolving space.

My next adventure is going to be down in west Dorset in the beautiful secluded Combe where Mapperton House resides. It's another incredibly special garden with a strong sense of place within the rolling hills of rural dorset.

How do I sum up my time working with Arne at Allt y bela? I'm not sure I'm entirely equal to it; the garden reflects the man, it is energetic, thoughtful and inspiring with a strong grounding in landscape and history. I think the garden at Allt y bela is one of the great modern gardens, it has beauty, elements of modernity, traditional craftsmanship and a very strong relationship to the house and landscape. I feel in many ways that Arne is leading a modern day arts and crafts revival in the garden, and it's been thrilling to have been a part of it.

Click here for a selection of Steve's favourite shots, taken by Britt Wiloughby Dyer, from the Garden Diary over the years.

Words: Steve Lannin, former Head Gardener, Allt y bela

Photos: Britt Willoughby Dyer

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August at Allt y bela

 

When I think of August in the garden I envisage long hot days, parched lawns and burnt out flower beds. In these long hot days I will be cutting yew topiary safe in the knowledge the the heat will generally deter further growth. In this vision of August I will be mowing the meadows, the ground baked hard as iron, the grass already dried out. I'm sure that this vision of August has, at least some basis in reality, but in more recent years it seems that August is always a bit of a disappointment. The really joyful late summer weather won't begin until the children, clad for autumn in new jumpers and blazers head back to school, then the sun will shine and the temperatures recover!

Despite a burst of sunshine over the late bank holiday weekend, this August has been particularly disappointing. I heard that the start of the month was the coldest since 1993, I'm not sure it's improved much since! Now, at the end of the month there is a distinct chill in the mornings, early mists linger longer and there's a hint of changing colour in the hedgerows which funnel you down the narrow lane to Allt y bela.

The upside to this cool, damp weather has been that the garden has stayed green, not only that but it's been growing in the same spirit as if it had been May. That has been something of a challenge to me as my August tasks are to mow the meadows and to cut the topiary. The abundant growth has led to some impressive weed growth and lawns which just won't stop growing!

All in all though I'm pretty grateful that the weather hasn't been too scorching (to say the least!) The cottage garden has continued to produce a mass of flowers for cutting, while in the kitchen garden the profusion of produce has been a little overwhelming. As the month draws to a close and the apples begin to colour it feels more like each sunny day we get is a little more precious than the last, and if September was to prove to be a beautiful sunny warm month, well I'll have no complaints!

Words: Steve Lannin, Head Gardener at Allt y bela

Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer

© Arne Maynard Garden Design 2017 - reproduction of content and / or photographs only by request.

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A late midsummer play in the garden

 

Last weekend saw the gardens come to life as well over 150 people came to enjoy some Shakespeare in the garden. We usually host a play in the garden theatre around mid summer when the garden is at a natural high point; the roses are in full bloom and the cottage garden is reaching that first peak of the year as the fresh young growth begins to harden and flowers are abundant. This year the weekend closest to mid summer was just about perfect, with warm sunshine long into the evening, which got me a little worried. Would the weather be as kind to us in late July?

For the last few years the night of the play has always been a blessed moment, where long warm summer evenings and rose fragrance compliment the performance and show off the garden in its best light. That's not always been the case though as one year's Romeo and Juliet performance was met with tempest!

Last week, as a busied myself in the garden, the omens did not look promising; torrential rain was forecast for the day before the play and as the weekend drew nearer rain was forecast for Saturday as well. The garden of course was very grateful for the inch and a half of rain that fell but I must confess to being rather worried about what it would all mean for the grass!

When Saturday came and I was woken to the sound of heavy rain my heart sank and as the day wore on and showers persisted I wondered if anyone would brave the weather at all. But then something rather unexpected and amazing happened; the clouds broke and the sun suddenly shone through, this was about six o clock, an hour before the play was due to begin!

When I arrived the garden was full of cheerful faces, picnic hampers and folding chairs. The HandleBards, our performers for the evening, so named because they travel from show to show on bikes, were set up and ready to go. A Midsummer Night's Dream has rather more parts than the four HandleBards could play, yet through some very clever, and frankly hilarious, devices they put on a performance that will stay with me for a very long time. I had heard good things about their productions but I was not prepared for just how entertaining they would be. The energy, the camaraderie and the physicality of their performance created a show that seemed to defy reason. It was brilliant and I dearly hope that they will be back next year.

The earlier rain meant that when the setting sun shone through the damp garden the effect was so much more dramatic and beautiful than it would have been had the day have been clear. Somehow everything came together beautifully, perhaps with the exception of a brief appearance on stage by a rather scruffy looking man who was plucked from the audience to deliver a few lines. (I had hoped that no photographs were taken, but alas…..you should be able to spot me - alongside a few other AMGD team members - if you look closely enough.)

Words: Steve Lannin, Head Gardener, Allt-y-bela

Photographs: Holly Fleming & Jennie Spears

 

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