Garden diary

Autumnal magic


Autumn for me is a time for memories. It's the time that you start to look back over your experiences in the summer and they begin to look like golden days when the sunshine lasted until 10 o'clock at night and there seemed to be endless time to enjoy the garden. This is of course a construct, part of our attempts to process and file away memories, but I find that I'm far more conscious of it now compared to other times of the year.

I also find that the memories made at this time of year stay with me for longer and somehow seem more resonant. I think it's partly because I know the next six months are likely to be cold and damp and generally much harder than those which have recently passed. I find that every sunny day seems like the most precious day, and that each flower seems more miraculous. Perhaps that's why I love autumn so much. It allows time for reflection but there is also still so much to appreciate.

One of these really resonant moments happened a couple of weeks ago when I went to Apple Day at Cefn ila, just a few miles away from Allt-y-bela. I had had other plans for that day that had fallen through and was feeling distinctly disappointed. I walked to Cefn ila through the open countryside from Usk and as I walked, my mood slowly improved.

Cefn ila is a site, now owned by The Woodland Trust, on which a lodge house sat until relatively recently. The house has gone and the gardens, orchards and kitchen garden are currently being reclaimed from their dereliction. The Apple Day event was beautifully ramshackle, it felt like a true community affair, no corporate presence and no charge on the gate; just an honest celebration of autumn's bounty. Next to the old walled garden, on an undulating rough pasture, the orchard - semi-ruinous - stood. Gnarled, sometimes damaged, tree branches drooped under the weight of fruit. Amongst it a camp fire was smoldering neither fully alight nor fully extinguished with low simple plank wood benches arranged around. Sat with the orchard behind was a cellist accompanying a lady playing the harp while singing gentle folk songs. I sat mesmerised watching the scene, listening to the light chatter of happy people as they wandered through the little stalls of apple presses and local honey, all the time framed by the rough meadow, orchard and haunting music.

I took a longer route back to Usk through woodlands and open fields with long views collecting odd seasonal delights as I went; skeletal holly leaves, wild rose hips and larch cones. Who can fail to be awed by such beauty.

Back in the garden at Allt-y-bela the beech is changing colour and other leaves are falling, the ground is getting damp and brown and the air smells earthy again. I hope that your autumn is filled with as much magic as mine. 

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

Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer


Mists and fruitfulness


There is a fine low mist hanging over Allt-y-bela this morning in stark contrast to yesterday afternoon when the garden was bathed in sunshine and if you didn't look to closely you could almost be persuaded that it was still summer. The rich ochre of the house stands like a beacon in the chilly morning air. It's mornings like this that remind me why houses were traditionally painted in bright colours as warmth seems to radiate out from its very walls.

It's hard to experience autumn without being reminded that this really is the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. The apple trees in the Allt-y-bela orchard have started to produce good fruit this year despite their youth. This week saw us harvesting some of the trees and our apple rack is already full. We have yet to harvest the step over apples in the kitchen garden, the goblet trained tree in the cottage garden and the trees in the meadow and lawn behind the house. It looks like a great year and it's exciting to think that we are only just starting to see the potential of the trees we have.

One of the really heartening signs of our new-found appreciation for local and British produce is the spread of Apple Days. It seems there isn't a corner of Great Britain that won't have at least one apple day over the next few weeks and I was really pleased to see that we have one very close to us at Allt-y-bela.

Our renewed collective interest in local produce and our shared local heritage give me hope that the destruction of our traditional orchards may finally be over and that the appreciation for what we have left will lead not only to the protection of our ancient orchards, but to a full scale replanting fit for our 21st century needs. Our plans at Allt-y-bela reflect the heritage of this part of Monmouthshire and last year we started planting traditional Perry varieties of pear, which were traditionally grown in this area and thrive in the damp conditions.

Autumn is the final reminder of the year that the garden at Allt-y-bela is designed to be productive as well as beautiful and the closer you look into the garden the more you find that every little opportunity has been used to make space for fruit. The fruit and vegetables that are grown here are all used; gluts are quickly turned into jams, chutneys and juice. There is something very satisfying in knowing that those tomatoes that never ripened, or those damaged apples that fell to earth a little hard, will all be used and appreciated.

As the leaves change colour and the frosts start to bite, having that gooseberry jam is a great way to remind yourself of those heady days of summer when the fruit hung heavy on the branches and your main concern was keeping the squirrels off of them until they were ripe!

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

Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer


Information about the apple storage chest can be found here.