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


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.


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