A day out

We have an annual trip, generally to a local garden of note. This year’s also involved a visit (and a delicious lunch) at a garden centre, Glyndwr Plants near Corwen. There was a definite run on the geraniums, and most of us left with at least something!

We then went on to an NGS garden, Aberclwyd Manor,

which opened exclusively for us. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t quite as cooperative, and there was intermittent light drizzle. One of the most interesting things about this garden was the use of texture and here is a gallery of images, many of which reflect that.

How many of us will be looking for interesting containers in which to grow sedums now?

 

The best gardens in Wales…

Our May meeting saw the BBC broadcaster and writer Tony Russell take us on a whirlwind tour of some of his personal favourites among Welsh gardens. He is also a coordinator for the North Wales Festival of Gardens, started last year, and many of the ones he chose were, ressuringly, in the north.

Plas Brondanw, image courtesy of gardenvisit.com

But not all… One of his personal favourites is Dyffryn, now run by the National Trust, near Cardiff, which has superb summer borders.

Dyffryn Gardens, image courtesy The National Trust

and there are other gardens for all seasons, such as the Dingle, great for autumn colour,

The Dingle, again from gardenvisit.com

and Erddig, near Wrexham, which he thinks is at its best in winter ‘when you can really see the structure of the garden’, with its topiary and pleached limes.

And there are also gardens reflecting all periods and types of garden design, from Dyffryn’s grand-tour-inspired recreation of a Pompeiian garden to modern designs such as those at Veddw. Really, we are very lucky – and many members will have left the meeting with a whole new appreciation of the sheer variety of wonderful Welsh gardens. And with lots of prospective visits in mind!

 

The Spring Show, 2017

The Spring Show is always a delight. The hall is filled with the scent of all the daffodils, reminding everyone of the fact that they do have a strong perfume, the colours are a joy after winter.

(This was a prize-winning entry in one of the Flower Arranging classes.)

This year was no exception and, amazingly given some of the strange weather we have had, entries were up. It’s been difficult keeping on top of quality – wind and sudden sharp drops in temperature have taken their toll – but there was a stunning and varied selection.

One of the most spectacular entries was this gorgeous orchid, in the class for flowering pot plants:

and how about this pot of beautiful species tulips, which was judged best in show for the non-Flower-Arranging classes?

But there were some little charmers as well, like this Anemone blanda, one of three – the class demands three identical blooms – which managed to stay presentable (and open) during the show.

Many, many thanks to everyone who entered, everyone who came along, to the judges and the stewards and the committee and the show organisers. Lovely day!

(And apologies for the delay in this post, caused by a mixture of work, computer problems and – hopefully – the last nasty bug of the winter.)

Wild in the garden

Our February meeting took place on one of the wildest nights of the winter – and what a great evening it was, too. Our speaker, Alan Price of Gatehouse Studio, came to talk to us about photographing the wildlife in our gardens. He has won and been shortlisted for many awards and showed us an amazing range of 100 images, all taken in his own garden. Inspirational, particularly as he pointed out that you don’t need a big garden to achieve amazing results.

And, since a picture paints a thousand words (but with a few hints and tips)…

blue-tits-in-snowdrops-gc

Blue tits in snowdrops. The snowdrops were placed on a bird table with crunched up peanuts at the base of the flowers – crunch the nuts up, and the birds will eat them in situ. For Alan, the key to success is a bird table like this, strategically dressed to tempt wildlife, using a hide (or even the house or shed as a hide), and having infinite reserves of patience. He repeatedly stressed the need to wait for things to happen, and here’s another example of what can result when you do:

bank-vole-and-blackberry-gc

Bank vole and blackberry. There are many voles and mice in Alan’s garden, and this shot was created by carefully placing the blackberries near an entrance hole, and waiting. So careful and considered observation is also a key – know your garden.

Sometimes a little careful help gets the shot.

slow-worm-gc

This beautiful slow worm (no, it’s not a snake; it’s a slow worm – a legless lizard, essentially) was found in the garden and carefully photographed in a glass bowl before being released.

This tiger moth was also carefully placed in the studio for photography, and then released. It was caught in a moth box put out on a summer evening, something Alan recommends. Moths are stunning – they’re not all ‘little brown jobs’. Not at all!

tiger-moth-gc

Fabulous!

A few more notes: Alan has a background in graphic design (you can tell), and stresses a few things relating to design when taking a photograph: the need to keep it simple, the need to plan – to have a preconceived idea of what you want – and the need for careful set dressing. On a more technical level, he uses a Nikon 7100 with a 300mm prime lens, and works at high speeds. He’ll use a central focus and crop afterwards, and – one last tip – says always focus on the eyes of your subject when photographing wildlife.

Growing by the moon

At first sight the subject of our October meeting might have seemed a bit esoteric, possibly a bit ‘hippy-dippy’, but in fact gardening – more specifically, growing food – in line with phases of the moon has been in use for millennia: it was, for instance, done by the Romans.

It’s also done by two of our local gardeners, Mary and Dennis. Very, very effectively.

img_5899

They outlined the basics for us: a waxing moon (one going from new to full) is supposed to be good for flowers, annuals and above-ground fruiting veg; a waning moon (from full to new) is good for roots and for pruning. This is narrowed down to three days centred on the day of the full or new moon itself. And that’s why a copy of Old Moore’s Almanack was on the table – in amongst all the wild predictions is a single page which lists moon planting days. Several people remembered their grandparents working like this, too, as did our speakers: in their case, one grandparent used the system in the States, and another used it in the South Wales valleys. It works best when the garden is organic.

But how did Mary and Dennis come to this way of gardening themselves?  They were right in the middle of an appalling industrial accident in Michigan in 1973. A fire-retardant chemical was accidentally mixed into cattle feed, but it didn’t just poison the cattle: it also affected pigs and over 1.5 million chickens; 500 farms were quarantined and about 9 million people consumed heavily contaminated food before anything came – reluctantly – to light (it still affects people today). At this point they decided that ‘never again were we going to trust the food system’. They moved initially to the Isle of Man, and then to Harlech. They now grow their food on a plot of land between Dyffryn and Talybont, where they produce some very impressive crops.

But they were careful to stress that their success isn’t just about planting with phases of the moon, even though that can be very effective (seeds planted on one moon usually come up by the next one, and with a 90% germination rate too – I’ve tried this, and it worked). It’s also about caring for the soil, and they described our soil as the ‘best we’ve ever grown on’. That’s not to say it doesn’t need work, of course – manuring, digging up stones, warming it up with black plastic (which also helps with weed restriction). They follow a three-year cycle which matches their crop rotation: year one, lime for brassicas; year two, compost for peas and beans and year three ‘muck, muck, muck’ for potatoes.

Here are some tips:
* Moles can be problematic, but they hate castor oil. Make a hole in the mole hill with a cane, dribble a bit of pure castor oil down and it seems to make them go away.
* Working by the moon can have another advantage: it organises you. It gives a definite timetable, whatever the weather (‘that’s what they make waterproofs for’).
* Other things can be done when convenient: ‘I manure whenever I have time’.
* Manure from Welsh cobs is perfect
* Slugs don’t like wood chippings (or at least Mary and Dennis’s slugs don’t).

And the mystery green-and-white object in the photo? It’s a Chinese Melon. It’s not sweet but is rather like a watermelon inside – now you know!

Summer Show, 2016

It’s been a very strange gardening year, and it’s continuing to be rather odd – so it was somewhat surprising that the show looked every bit as spectacular as usual last week. Or maybe it shouldn’t have been so surprising: we have some very talented gardeners in the area, after all.

This year we had a new layout in the Hall, which was much appreciated. The appreciation started as we were setting up, when we realised just how cramped some things had become. Much more space!

setting up

It also was much better for the flowers, enabling everyone to get up close and personal to some wonderful things – and it was better for the judge and the steward in that section, as they no longer had to reach over plants and vases, or kneel down to get an adequate view. As usual, the hydrangeas were magnificent.

lacecap

The vegetables and fruit were in the middle of the room as usual, and – as usual – there were some stunning exhibits. These gorgeous onions not only won their category, they also won best in show for the fruit and vegetable section.

nionod

Then there’s the flower arranging. We had slightly fewer entries, but the standard was just as high.

elegant

The produce section is always popular, covering as it does everything from marmalade to wine and pickle to (this year) treacle tart. The judge was so blown away by the standard of the jams that he left a special note:

jam appreciation

and let’s not forget the crafts, where some competitors continued the floral theme:

flowers embroidery

A lovely show, and a lovely afternoon – even if we did emerge into rainy conditions worthy of October.

produce and flowers

Huge thanks to everyone who helped, especially to Bryan and Anita who are retiring as show organisers this year, to all the judges and stewards, to everyone who helped set up the night before, to the advertisers whose contributions helped pay for the programme – and, above all, to every single person who entered and visited our 2016 Summer Show.

Here’s a gallery of the day. Just click on an image for the usual slideshow.

The last garden visit of the year

Two members were brave and opened their gardens after some of the worst ‘summer’ weather for several years. However, despite an inauspicious misty / foggy start to the day, it soon brightened up and became so sunny that everyone visiting the gardens clustered together in the shade after they’d had a look round.

garden one

The two gardens have some similarities, and some major differences. One – this one – is higher than the other and more exposed; the other – below – is much bigger (at about 3 acres, all told) and has extensive planting of trees as well as a stream in one of its three meadows.

Garden two

Meadows are something they both have in common; so are growing vegetables and fruit. Here are some pictures from that lovely sunny afternoon – who knows when there’ll be another like it?

The first garden:

and the second:

Let’s hope we get the good weather back (and preferably without the high winds as well).