If you saw the TV programme “A Farm for the Future” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00hs8zp) a while ago, Rebecca Hoskins investigated the concept of the forest garden. In the programme she visited Martin Crawford’s Forest Garden near Cambridge (www.agroforestry.co.uk) and we saw what our garden could look like.
The Hughes family lived in what is our house for many years, their son, Noel is the manager of the waterworks that prepare and send the water from here to Birmingham. They had a very productive garden which provided a lot of the family’s food, subsequently most of it was allowed to go to grass, although Bob, who lived here prior to us buying the property kept goats in the part where the car port is now. Even with the improvements to the soil that the Hughes’ and Bob’s goats made it is still primarily a “groe”, that is, it is the area where the meandering river, before it was contained, threw up pebbles, and occasionally covered them with flood silt. The subsoil is more pebble than soil.
As we prepared to build the car port and the garage we gathered all the top-soil into a heap further down the garden, otherwise the top half of the garden was left while all the building works took place. We had developed the lower garden, with a small lawn, a couple of stone patios, a herb garden and one small curving bed. It was into this bed that we had to pile all the plants that we had brought with us, plus gifts from various friends and the occasional couldn’t-be-missed bargain. The result was a rather overfilled area, even the herb garden had to be press-ganged into providing temporary homes for fruit bushes, roses and cuttings.
Once the cottage was finished the builders moved onto landscaping the upper half of the garden; but the cottage was not finished until November, so a lot of the landscaping was done in the frosts and snow of December and January. Last Autumn I had managed to create a six foot wide cottage garden to run alongside the fence with our neighbour’s garden. I had planted a hazel and beech hedge and filled the rest with stocks, fuchsias, spring bulbs, lavender, geraniums, mallow and small shrubs. Colour-wise it was all on the deep reds, pinks and purples, and, last Autumn, looked very good. It was a great fillip to us to have even a few feet of decent looking garden in that half. We are now anxiously watching to see what has survived the vicious frosts of this winter, every time we see a new shoot appear it is a cause for celebration!
The ideal way to order from Martin Crawford is to order early in the year and get delivery of good quality plants in November, however, for a number of reasons I could not place my order until this January, by which time a lot of varieties were sold out, even so, I have now taken delivery of some excellent looking trees, fruiting shrubs and ground cover and I have been taking advantage of the recent good, dry, mild weather to get them planted out. I have also taken advantage of the delay in shooting, caused by the long cold spell before that, which has allowed me to carry on moving plants from the overcrowded half of the garden. I am having to move top soil from the pile we created as I plant. This is not ideal, I would have preferred to be able to plant into undisturbed soil but I had no control of that.
When the conifers were removed from the village last year, a stump grinder was employed to mash up the remaining stumps. I collected barrow-loads of this material and have used it as a mulch on all the finished beds. My thinking was that this would create something like a forest floor and would protect plants from frost. I have since been told that a wood based mulch will leach nitrogen from the soil, so this may not have been a good thing to do. Some of the plants I have ordered from Agroforestry are nitrogen fixing, and I have fed with rotted farm manure and with chicken pellets, so I am hoping that my plants will not suffer too much starvation.
Our garden is sun starved for the mid-winter months. The sun does not appear above Carn Gafallt, the hill to the south-east of us until well after noon, and not at all in December. On good mornings Y Foel, the hill to the north is burnished with glorious sunshine, but the village remains in shadow! As a result we do not see spring bulbs shooting, sometimes until after other areas have bulbs in bloom, and it sets back our spring generally. There is little point, I am assured by those who know better than me, in planting vegetables until May. This leaves us with a short growing season, and we have to choose accordingly.
When my parents came to live with us in Builth in 2000, my father brought with him a magnificent camillia, which had bloomed outside their front door in the relatively balmy climate of Tenby. I think he felt that it was my fault that it did not bloom well in Builth! Dad died in 2005 and a year later I moved the camillia to the Elan Valley. It had struggled to bloom in Builth, it did not manage to bloom at all in the village! However this year the plant is covered with flower buds and I am hoping that, at last, it may have forgiven us for its moves. The leaves are all a good shiny green, and I talk to it every day. I know they do not like early morning sunshine on frosty days, which causes the flower buds to thaw too quickly – that is certainly not something it is troubled with here.