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.

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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!

Gardening by the sea

Our September meeting focused on something which concerns most of us round here to some degree – trying to garden effectively within sight of the sea. Quentin Deakin is from Cambrian Coast Gardens in Tywyn, and himself lives within 150 metres of the coast, so he knows the problems: high winds, salt, sand, intense rain, intense sunshine…

But there are advantages too. By and large, coastal climates are milder, with cleaner air, good levels of sunshine and seaweed available as a fertiliser (only in moderation, see below). He tests various things in his own garden, and is using Rosa rugosa

rosa rugosa

as a hedge, though he is also experimenting with tamarisk, pruned to shape. Windbreaks, as he stressed, are essential – he pointed to the way trees will grow better close to the coast when protected by something like the gable end of a ruined farm building – and density of planting can also help.

When it comes to plant choices that will cope with the demands of a seaside garden, Mr Deakin stressed the value of looking at wild plants that flourish in our environment, whether that’s things like sea pinks,

sea pinks

seen here on the Mawddach Trail, or various sedums and sempervivums,

which can do very well indeed. What other plants are worth thinking about? Well, among others, buddleias and hydrangeas (he suggested some of the more unusual varieties) can cope, as can grasses (Zebra grass generally stays upright, often in the face of high winds) and things like cordylines. He also recommended chokeberry, and pointed out that cotton lavender often thrives as well. He has had success with hollyhocks, somewhat out of fashion at the moment, but spectacular, and with all sorts of sea hollies. He brought along one, E. agavifolium,

which went onto the raffle table and led to more ticket sales! (the photograph is courtesy of Beth Chatto gardens, who have it for sale… just saying, for those who didn’t win the raffle).

Footnote: using seaweed.
The collection of seaweed is illegal, but the laws are really designed to stop commercial, widescale depletion; the key, says Quentin Deakin, is not to be greedy. You have to rinse the salt off or expose it to rain, and then let it rot down, either in the compost bin (in smaller quantities) or in its own bin – he generally keeps seaweed separate. It can be used as a concentrated fertiliser. dug in to the soil in January or February, 

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).

Travelling to Colombia

ColombiaBleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones have been plant hunting for many years now (in the spirit of the nineteenth-century explorers, if not – thank heavens – with their rapacious techniques). And this month we were privileged to have Bleddyn come and speak to us about their recent trip to Colombia.

Most of us probably had rather hazy ideas about the country – not realising, perhaps, just how large it is (roughly twice the size of France) or how varied the countryside is, or how much of it is at an altitude which can make working difficult, or just how very hot it can be. (And when we think of Welsh settlers in South America, we automatically think of Patagonia, but now we know that there are people of Welsh origin in Colombia too.)

We can also understand a bit more about the amazing flora…

extraordinary

Bleddyn had helpfully come equipped with plant lists, which were useful. The one thing that stunned us all was the sheer size of some of the plants at lower altitudes; putting people in the photographs really gave an astonishing impression. But even higher up, some (like the Espeletias above) were enormous. Not all though; we were shown a pretty mat-forming geranium, G. sibbaldioides, which as ‘an inch tall, at best’.

We learned a bit about the realities of a plant-hunting expedition: getting licences, the perils of poisonous seeds, the methodical approach needed. A good day ends not in a big supper but in processing and recording. Plant material is stored in Ziploc bags; dried seeds in paper. Records are made of the altitude, any companion plants; all necessary details are noted down, and then each collected item is given an accession number. Of course, it’s essential to collect ripe seed, and we learned that a vital tool is a telescopic pole with a sharp hook on the end. And that, even so, some plants can be quite uncooperative.

It was very impressive – and so were the plants we were shown. In Colombia even the street planting, apparently, is spectacular. ‘It’s so easy to grow things there’, said Bleddyn. Lucky them!

Local gardens, June

It’s definitely the garden visiting season – at least, when it stops raining (and even when it doesn’t, for the truly intrepid). Every year some of out members open their own gardens to the Club so we can see what they’ve been up to / steal ideas / have a cup of tea and a slice of homemade cake. This June we visited Guy and Margaret’s garden, normally open under the NGS (we have two NGS gardens in the village), and it was inspiring.

The trees and shrubs are wonderful,

Cornus

especially this Cornus, which made people stop in their tracks. It is sensational.

But there were lovely things to see everywhere, from particular plants

wow

to the greenhouse and polytunnel, which made those of us who are vegetable gardeners quite envious (let’s not mention the rest of the vegetable gardens… sigh…)

polytunnel

Those of us who share a rabbit problem were especially interested in the preventative measures on display. Peter Rabbit wouldn’t stand much of a chance.

Here’s a collection of photographs – to remind those who went of what can be achieved, to inspire those who didn’t, and to set us all off with ideas for our own gardens. Very many thanks indeed to Guy and Margaret: ten years opening for the NGS.

 

 

Plas Cadnant – 2016

Every year we try and organise a trip to an inspiring garden; generally we manage it but occasionally events conspire against us. This year everything went beautifully – even the weather improved – and we went to Plas Cadnant, the remarkable garden on Anglesey.

Cadnant

What is especially remarkable about Plas Cadnant this year is the amount of work that has needed to be done following horrendous and damaging floods in December. Looking at this gorgeous view, you can hardly believe the state the garden was in six months ago. It’s so sad: Anthony Taverner has been restoring it for 20 years, and so much of his work was undone in one night. But it’s back!

There are some fabulous plants,

Lily

and some gorgeous topiary (clipped buxus),

Clipped Buxus

and the insects were busy in the garden.

bee

It was a lovely day; we had the garden to ourselves (it’s closed on Mondays) which was doubly great, and members have called it ‘wonderful’, ‘amazing’, ‘excellent’ and ‘a fantastic day out’. Huge thanks to everyone at Plas Cadnant, and to Guy and Tony for the photographs. Just click on an image in the gallery below for a slideshow.

(Click on this link and you’ll see the extent of the devastation – worth it, just to see what an amazing job the team at Plas Cadnant have done since December.)