33 members, friends and relatives joined us on June 26th for the 2023 GOGG holiday to North Wales and Anglesey which proved a most enjoyable tour. The very hot weather in most of June had cleared away to give rather cloudy but mainly dry conditions making garden visiting much more comfortable.
Our first visit on the way up to North Wales was to the National Trust (NT) owned Erddig estate near Wrexham. This large spacious garden has a lovely walled garden and colourful borders to enjoy and, like many NT gardens is now much more wildlife friendly and there are large areas where swathes of grass have been left uncut. Here. particularly around a long artificial pond there were lots of wild orchids and other wild flowers as well as butterflies and dragonflies. From Erddig we continued along the North Wales coast to our hotel for 4 nights, the Chatsworth Hotel on the seafront of the attractive seaside resort of Llandudno.
A beautiful drive along the coast road west with mountains to the south and the sea to the north on the second morning brought us to our next garden, the University of Wales (Bangor) botanic gardens at Treborth. This was a last-minute substitution but proved a most interesting visit. In the various glasshouses were a wide variety of exotic plants, including spectacular pitcher plants whilst outside there were colourful borders and wild areas with plenty of orchids and other wild flowers. The site also includes a large area of natural woodlands stretching down to the Menai Strait. Despite the short notice, the staff at the gardens were most welcoming and helpful. From here we drove across the Menai Bridge to the NT garden of Plas Newydd on Anglesey. This is a large and colourful garden with walks to the shore of the Menai Strait. There is an attractive terrace garden with lovely views across the water to the mountains of Snowdonia. There are plenty of wilder areas of grassland and woodland including a Coronation Meadow which already has plenty of wild flowers and was attracting meadow brown butterflies despite the cloudy conditions. From here we returned to Llandudno along the beautiful coast road seeing the lovely views from the other side of the coach!
Our third day began with a visit to what was probably the star attraction of the holiday, the lovely NT gardens of Bodnant one of the greatest gardens in the country. The gardens have been extended and developed considerably over recent years including a new tunnel under the main road connecting the new car park to the gardens. There is so much to see but perhaps the colourful, rose-covered terraces overlooking the artificial lakes with the Carneddau mountains in the background is still the highlight for me. At one end of the lakes is the pin mill which was moved to the gardens from the Stroud valleys. However in such a wonderful garden there is something for everyone to enjoy. After lunch here we returned to Llandudno where there was some free time to look around the town or take the tram up to the Great Orme where some members visited the historic copper mine.
The fourth morning again found us travelling the coast road west to our first garden over the Menai Bridge on Anglesey. The Hidden Gardens of Plas Cadnant have only recently been re-created and proved a great revelation with many in the party actually preferring it to Bodnant.
The garden was opened an hour early just for us and the owner gave us a talk about way the garden has been brought back to life in the last few years. At the top of the garden by the house a walled garden has been developed which is full of colour and interest whilst beyond is a wild area around a mountain stream. The closeness of the garden to the Menai Strait means that the garden is relatively frost free allowing many exotic plants to thrive in the wooded ravine area giving a similar appearance to some of the Cornish gardens like Trebor which run down to the sea. After leaving Cadnant we again crossed the Menai Strait to our next garden at Penrhyn Castle. The castle is a huge Victorian pile in the style of the great Welsh castles built by Edward 1st such as Carnarfon and Harlech and is surrounded by a large area of parkland. The property seemed strangely low key for a NT property as there were no maps of the estate available and we were told that the property would close at 4pm leaving us only 2 hours to explore. The first problem therefore was to find the way to the large walled garden located in a shallow valley a short walk from the castle where Pat had reported that we would find an archway covered in fuchsias. This again shows the frost-free nature of the area. Returning to the castle for a cuppa we were able to stroll in the parkland with its lovely views of the Snowdon mountain range. I for one could have done with the extra hour here that I had anticipated when I planned the trip!
Our final day saw us set off south for a drive through the Snowdonia National Park with visits to 2 gardens to look forward to before heading home. Unfortunately as we drove into the mountains the weather closed in and restricted the views to the valleys and lower slopes of the mountains. Our first stop was at Plas Brondanw the former home of the architect Clough Williams Ellis who created the famous Italianate village of Portmeirion just down the road. This proved to be a really charming house and attractive garden. The garden was designed to take advantage of the location by creating a series of mountain vistas but unfortunately the cloud cover prevented us from enjoying the views to the full. The huge blue flowered hydrangeas were, however, a sight well worth seeing. In the afternoon we travelled on into the eastern part of the park to visit the garden at Caerau near Bala. At over 1000’ this is the highest garden open to the public in Wales and proved to be a really excellent coda to the tour. There were colourful borders near the house and a lovely wild area higher up the garden where despite the cloudy conditions, many ringlets were flying amongst the long grass. Before leaving most people enjoyed a cake and a pot of tea served in china cups and saucers. This was a pleasant contrast to the thick earthenware mugs used by so many catering establishments these days and a lovely end to our holiday.
Our hotel in Llandudno was clean and comfortable with reasonable food including, after a lecture to the chef from Sue and Elaine, some tasty vegetarian dishes. They were dealing with up to 7 coach parties and, although the staff were very helpful and efficient something had to give and some of the food was a little below standard. There was live entertainment each evening for those who did not prefer a stroll along the wide, traffic-free promenade to a real ale pub! As usual Barnes and their driver, Paul, looked after us very well so that we didn’t miss our usual driver, Sheralyn, who had obviously received a better offer to go to Ireland.
Hugelculture comes from the Permaculture school of thought where you make the best use of land, efficiently and sustainable, living lightly on the planet, in harmony with nature. A Hugelculture is made by starting with digging a pit and placing a log in it, then smaller branches and then twigs, this is covered by upside down turf and then soil, so that the whole structure is an elongated mound. We made ours 1 ½ metre long, 1 metre high, and 0.8 metre wide., but they can be made any size. The idea is to make use of vertical space and to preserve moisture.
Filling gaps with turf and soil
Planting up with strawberries peas and beans
Hugelculture bed semi – established with, peas, nasturtium, strawberries and the addition of self seeded borage and nigella. Broad beans have also been planted but have not come up yet. Having made the bed in April then the long hot weather spell in May dried it out a bit whereas when really underway the idea of the Hugel is that it keeps moist and fed by the gradual breakdown of the internal wood. Initially it is best to sow nitrogen fixing plants to replace any taken by the breakdown of the wood, but by next year we can grow any plants we wish
Worm composting is a method of generating compost by feeding manure worms with kitchen waste; it is not generated very quickly but it is useful for recycling kitchen waste if you do not have either the facilities or enough materials to make garden compost.
Manure worms digest fresh material, vegetable and fruit peelings and are found in the compost heap as opposed to earth worms which we find in garden soil and digest the garden soil.
Manure worms are brandling worms(pink) or tiger worms(stripey) which can be bought from fishing tackle shops (they are used for bait for fishing) or can be found in garden compost or stacked fresh farmard manure.
It is easy to make a worm composting facility yourself.
I use a bucket, or fat ball container, with a plant pot fitted into it (the plant pot a little smaller than the bucket) with an old roof tile or the like under the plant pot to keep the bottom of it proud of the bottom of the bucket; this is important because the process generates liquid and the compost will be too wet if the plant pot is sat directly onto the bottom of the bucket.
To get started:
place your plant pot into the bucket(with the tile underneath) and add a couple of inches of compost – it is best if you can use some compost that you have made, or use organic compost that does not contain any artificial chemicals.
Add some worms and let them get acclimatised for a few days
Then add some kitchen waste for the worms to digest
Add a wad of damp newspaper on top and cover with something like some Perspex or something else that makes a rigid lid, punch some holes in the lid
Keep feeding the worms until your plant pot is full.
Scoop off the top layer of food which should contain the worms and set aside to start the next batch
Remove the compost and store for use
Leave a couple of inches of compost in the pot to start the next batch and add the worms to get started again.
When adding the kitchen waste, add in shallow layers and leave a small area free from the waste to allow the worms to come to the surface if necessary.
Take the lid off for a few hours from time to time.
Watch that the compost does not become to wet or dry – add ripped up newspaper when too wet, or water lightly if too dry
Worm compost is high in nutrients, about ten times that of garden compost.
Leafmould is easy to make and free. It has very little nutrients but is very useful as a soil conditioner; it opens up heavy soils and helps with moisture retention on light sandy soils. It is also useful as a mulch on veg beds and ornamental borders.
Leaves are high in carbon and are broken down by fungal action. Materials that we put in the compost bin are broken down by bacterial action, the bacteria needing lots of nitrogen to keep working. We can add leaves to the compost heap but they will take a long time to break down and the break down process will use a lot of nitrogen that the bacteria need. So it is better to make leafmould separately from the compost heap.
All that is needed is a wire netting (small gauge) cage to stop the leaves from blowing around. Just use two or three small stakes or bamboo canes, driven into the ground and surround by wire netting. Add the leaves and just leave them to break down. You can add grass cuttings, mixed in with the leaves, or urine to speed breakdown. After a year, there will be some nice leafmould in the middle of the heap that you can use and then just keep adding leaves as they become available.
Research by Garden Organic has shown that using leafmould on the veg plot gives healthier plants, better yields and less problems with pests and diseases.
It is lined with pondliner, a layer of fleece to protect the pondliner, a layer of rubble then some more fleece. There is an overflow pipe just above the rubble layer and a downpipe in one corner to water into the base. Plants can then suck up what they need.
1. The empty raised bed with overflow and downpipe in situ.
2. The pondliner in place.
3. Layer of fleece and a layer of rubble
4. A layer of fleece over the rubble and then the soil was added.
5 Planted up bed with mizuna, mibuna, mustard,carrot Beta, Sweet pea, beetroot Devoy, broad bean Glos bounty, calendula, cavolo de Nero, sorrel, chives and oca.
6. View down the garden with hazel arch to the raised bed
GOGG attended the Malvern Spring Show in May. Our theme was ‘BACK TO BASICS – GARDENING ORGANICALLY’. We had demos for comfrey liquid, composting(thanks to Gloucestershire CC for the composter and leaflets), worm composting as well as the soil model showing the wealth of micro-organisms that provide soil fertility from the inputs. We also had a table for children’s activities.
We received a lot of interest from the public particularly in composting and our method of making comfrey liquid (putting the leaves to break down without water, preventing the strong smell!)
We were very nicely surprised to receive an RHS BRONZE MEDAL for the display, so very well done to everyone who contributed.
Many apples were affected by the very late, very severe frost that we suffered in early May 2017. This resulted in some very poor crops and some trees have not had any fruit this year. Some apples show frost damage, appearing as russet patches, something many of us have not seen before. These are two Adam’s Pearmain apples and one Bramley apple, all showing signs of frost damage.