Eden Project and Lost gardens of Heligan

These are two of the most fantastic garden in the UK, probably the world.  I visited Eden  in 2004 or thereabouts, and Heligan a little earlier, and was keen to see how they have evolved.

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The Eden project, for those who don’t know, was created out of an open cast china clay pit at the end of the last century.  It was designed to show that the damage we do to the earth can be (and should be) repaired.  I’m not sure whether this message has got through yet!  I think we visited in spring last time and this time it was autumn.  These pictures show the increase in tree growth in that time.

Although the bio-domes are the most striking feature of the site, on this visit I found the outside areas just as fascinating.  I don’t know whether they had the forest garden area (on the lead in between the carparks and the ticket hall) last time we came, my interests have evolved slightly since then.  This was a nice little plot, mainly of ornamental edibles.  It was interesting to see the buffalo berry (shepherdia argentea), a plant which I am considering growing this year.  This has edible black fruit, but is also nitrogen fixing, so can do well on poorer soils.  I was impressed by how tall it was growing.

forest garden eden
Forest garden with shepherdia shrub

There were lots of flowers even in late September, and the autumn leaves were also giving a good show.  Most plants were quite well labelled, but there were some interesting ones we could not find labels for, including a plant that looked rather like solomons seal, but had black berries (‘not everything in a forest garden is edible’….)  Other interesting plants included tiny fuchsia and pomegranite plants and a hardy aloe: Aloe striatula which is hardy to -10, so I could grow it outside on Skye.

community allotments
chinese – british allotment

I found the allotment areas most interesting.  They had set them up to reflect the diversity of cultures of people that grow plants in the UK.  So there were chinese, african, caribbean and indian themed allotments, with plants reflecting the cuisine of these areas, as well as more traditional british vegetable plants and flowers.  There were several malabar gourd plants, (making bids to take over the crater!) vegetable spaghetti, which I remember has similar but smaller noodley fruit, fantastic displays of outdoor tomatoes and chilli, soya beans and chick peas, sweet potato (as well as the normal kinds).  There were lovely plants of yacon, mashua, oca, achocha, physalis, quinoa and amaranth.  Some I’ll have to look up to see what their growing requirements are: japanese ginger, dasheen, lemongrass, turmeric, and vietnamese coriander, which all could be interesting additions to the polytunnel, if not outside.  I think I spotted new zealand spinach growing as a ground cover, but I could not find the identifying label for it.

south american plantings
Amaranth, mashua, yacon with possibly NZ spinach at front right

They had obviously made an effort to consider the environmental consequences of the development itself.  There were several bin areas for visitors to use, with separate bins for different sorts of recyclable waste, including compostable waste too.  I’m not sure where they compost the waste – that wasn’t on display and I would have found that interesting.  There were water dispensing points to enable refills of water bottles, outside as well as water fountains inside the tropical biome.

tropical dome
Tropical biome – jungle feel

The tropical biome was just as good as I remembered.  It is difficult to believe that they used it as the ice palace in “Die another day”.  Still a fantastic bit of engineering, let alone the plants!  The jungle really feels established and doesn’t have too manicured a look to it.  There are ant colonies and little lizards as well as birds.  Less useful as a source of planting inspiration for me though!

lizard
Lizard in tropical biome

We didn’t have time for the warm temperate biome, and were getting a bit tired, but had a quick look through the microscopic world display area, which had been under construction last time I came.  The use of artworks to illustrate different aspects of microbes was fun, including beautiful hand cut paper and life size figure embroidery.  There were interactive exhibits of various kinds including a huge one dedicated to the source of chloroplasts that convert carbon dioxide to oxygen.  A thirty foot metallic blue cyanobacterium billowed fragrant smoke rings to the delight of children (of all ages!).  It was quite cute to watch the kiddies trying to catch the rings, but I shan’t even try to upload the video I took.

cyanobacterium
Giant cyanobacterium blowing smoke rings

Opposite the car parks we eventually found the ‘wild chile’ area.  This was mentioned on the site maps, but there were no signs to it or to explain what was going on, until we got to the far end of it, where there appears to be a second entrance.  I have been interested in Chile since I discovered that much of that country’s interior shares a similar mild rain forest climate to the UK.  The area has been set up as a living reserve for plants that are endangered in their native range.

wild chile
Monkey puzzles were the only clue that this was the ‘wild chile’ area

There was an impressive array of young monkey puzzle trees, I judged them to be possibly 18 years old from counting their branches.  Just another twenty years or so for the nuts then!  There was also a lovely nothofagus forest.  This is another tree I’m interested in. The southern beech, as it’s known, likes a mild damp climate and grows very quickly.  It ought to be ideal for coppicing on Skye.  There were n. nervosa, n. obliqua and n. x. leonii, all doing very well.  I couldn’t get hold of these when I was planting my coppice wood, although I did manage to get hold of three n. alpina (which may be a synonym for n. nervosa) a couple of years ago, which are still very small trees (well, even ‘shrubs’ would be dignifying the plants at the moment, although they are still alive).  Another interesting chilean edible we saw was luma apiculata, an ornamental shrub with small glossy dark green leaves.  The black fruit are edible.  I have a tiny one of these, just planted a couple of years ago and doing alright.  I tried a couple of berries and they were nice raw, not too sweet, but not sharp either, just juicy.  There were several plants, and they appeared to flower better in the sunnier spots.  There were a number of huge fuchsias still flowering away.  I didn’t spot any fruit, which have a quite sweet and spicy flavour when ripe.  There was also an impressive gunnera plant, which we are asked not to plant in this part of Scotland, since it likes it too well!  The leaf stalks are edible like rhubarb, although it’s not something I’ve tried.  It would still be too windy for those enormous leaves here!

nothofagus woodland
Nothofagus woodland

On the following day I was able to have another walk round the wild chile area whilst the car was on charge, as we stopped again on our way to Heligan.  It looks like they have been recently planting a trials area for bamboos.  Without information displays it is hard to say what they are trying to achieve this time.  They were carefully planted and mulched, with a variety of bamboos judging by the attached labels.

insect hotel
Insect hotel at Heligan

Really the visit to Heligan was too short to do it justice.  We had to leave again in good time to continue our journey.  Part of the garden was closed as well unfortunately, so we couldn’t visit the hidden valley area.  They had made the most impressive ‘insect hotel’ I have ever seen in a sunny spot on the woodland walk, and we were taken by some beautiful oaks, although did not find out what variety they were.

gunnera hibernation
Protecting Gunnera

In the jungle they were putting the gunnera to bed for the winter by cutting the leaves off and putting them upside down as umbrellas.  Gunnera are fairly tender, so even in milder areas of the UK can need a bit of protection.  Massive tree ferns and palm trees are a feature of the jungle garden, and they have obviously been considering the future as well, with smaller monkey puzzles as well as the original garden’s 100 year plus specimens.

young monkey puzzle
Young and original monkey puzzles

Bamboos and bananas also give a tropical feel to the garden.  I’m sorry to have missed the hidden valley, since I remember that as one of the most atmospheric parts of the garden.  They were obviously hard at work, since we could hear chainsaws going.  I hope this is just planned maintenance, and they have not suffered losses in the hot, dry summer.

helligan vegetables
Lettuces in walled garden

We wandered back through the huge ornamental vegetable gardens.  These are bigger than I remember, with such beautiful displays of lettuce and rhubarb forcers!  I couldn’t resist the reduced plants in the sales area, although AC luckily spotted that the camellia sinensis were c. Sinensis var. assamica, rather than c. sinensis var. sinensis, so I avoided those (too tender).  I did pick up a little lady boothby climbing fuchsia which should be fun.

I would recommend a full day at Eden.  We probably didn’t start going round till nearly 12 noon.  You would certainly need more than the couple of hours we were able to spend at Heligan to make the most of the trip!

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Catching up at home

misty dogs
Misty Isle dogs

It’s been a few weeks since I got back and I’ve not done a lot.  Skye has been doing ‘misty isle’ again, just this last day or so turning colder and brighter.  The tree field does have some autumn colour.  Particularly down by the pond where it is a bit sheltered, the birch and willow have a few more leaves holding on.  There is a lovely clumping grass turning a golden shade by the pedestrian gate to the river.

golden grass
Golden grass

While the winds in the north we should have some fine weather, but I need to tuck some fleece or similar round the tea bushes to protect them from the winter cold.  We actually had our first frost this weekend, which was a bit of a surprise.  The green manures I sowed in the orchard just before the holiday have been a resounding failure.  The field beans were eaten by crows, no sign of the vetch or clover, and the remaining fodder radish is going to be too small and sparse to create any coverage!  I should have sown about a month earlier….I do have a nice crop of grass and buttercups coming, so I guess I’ll just have to sheet mulch in the spring, but this will kill off the desireable seeds I put in as well.

orchard green manure not
Failed green manure

The tea garden extension is still looking quite green and lush.  I’ll tidy this up a bit when we get some frosts, since I’ll need to think about harvesting the outside yacon, oca and mashua then.  The oca has had some tiny yellow flowers, rather bashed by the wet winds.

oca flowers oct 2018
Yellow Oca flowers

Neither the oca or mashua really like the exposed position.  Of the mixed selection of plants that went in, the self seeding kale has done well, and I have a few nice looking carrots along the edge.  The fodder radish has some good size roots, so I may pull some of these over the winter.  I think there will still be enough to give coverage.  Phacelia and borage are still blooming lovely!  In the original tea garden unfortunately I have a lawn of grass growing under the blackcurrant bushes, I’ll try mulching that in the spring also.  The himalayan strawberries had a second flush of flowers, but none have set this time.

fodder radish
Fodder radish – big roots!

The experimental sheet mulching with combined paper and cardboard has not been a  great success.  I think that the cardboard really does need two layers.  It seems to have disintegrated more quickly, and then does not keep the newspapers protected.  I do have some more cardboard, and have re-mulched the bit by the tea garden, I’ll need to try and do the orchard as well whilst we’ve got this nice weather.  The cardboard alone double layers have also suffered a bit, but some of this is definately dog damage, so I still think this is the better way to go.

tea garden failed mulch
Failed mulch (including dog damage)

Dartington Forest Garden

forest garden layers
Forest garden layers at Dartington

The forest garden at Dartington was created over the last 24 years by Martin Crawford of the Agroforestry Research Trust (ART).  A forest garden uses useful plants to mimic the layers of a natural woodland to create a stable ecosystem.  It is a popular theme in temperate climate permaculture.  The picture above illustrates the forest garden layers at the edge of the garden by the carpark, including unseen roots (of mashua and japanese yam).  The timing of our holiday was timed around the ability to participate on one of the tours that Martin runs periodically through the year.  It also had to be outside of the peak season on Skye.  I didn’t always catch the latin names of the plants during the tour, so in general I have used the common names that Martin used.  When he did give the latin names I realise that I have probably been mispronouncing them all these years, having mainly learnt them from books!

lollypop alder
Italian alder trees with lower branches removed

The canopy layer is mainly made up of italian alder trees which have had their lower branches removed in order to let more light through.  Even so the garden was much more shady than Sagara’s garden, feeling much more like a woodland with clearings, rather than a field with trees.  Martin has not used soil landscaping to create microclimates, explaining that as his plot sloped south and was sheltered at the start by a wood to the west it had not been necessary.

Having already visited Sagara’s garden many of the plants were familiar to us already, although Martin’s trees were considerably bigger.  He stressed the importance of plotting the area and planting spacing based on mature tree sizes since all the layers will require light to be productive.  Clearings form suntraps that enable Martin to grow even quite tender fruit like persimmon.  It has been a hot year this summer following a cold winter, and many of the fruit are a couple of weeks early, and some that don’t always ripen are doing well.

groundcover
False strawberry groundcover

Much of the ground under the trees was clear of plants, being covered by leaf mulch.  In the spring there are more bulbs in growth such as wild garlic.  The main spreading ground cover Martin had visible at the time we came was false strawberry.  This has a yellow flower, and although it does set some little red strawberry like fruit, they are disappointingly tasteless.  The false strawberry has the advantage of being evergreen, so protecting the soil year round.  Other shade loving ground covers included Hosta, and fiddlehead fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) both of which I fancy growing.  There was also mint, ground covering raspberries and japanese wineberry, with comfrey and turkish rocket in the sunny spots.  Martin said that turkish rocket was one of the few plants that could happily compete with comfrey.  Other ground layer plants included more of the japanese spring vegetables, solomons seal and japanese ginger, which is harvested by cutting the growing shoots rather than digging it up.  The main weed that Martin gets seeding in the garden is Ash trees.  Sadly this may not be the case for much longer, since the ash dieback has spread to the county.

hosta and fern
Hosta and fiddlehead fern thrive in the shade

 

Martin talked about the importance of soil mycellium (fungal networks)  in sharing the nutrients about the wood.  They also can spread warnings amongst the plants.  If one plant is stressed or attacked by pests it releases chemicals that, transmitted by the mycellium, stimulate other plants to increase their own chemical defences.  Martin said that generally it isn’t neccessary to innoculate the soil.  As long as it wasn’t disturbed, the fungi would already be in the soil, particularly close to existing trees.  It is however possible to buy edible fungi spawn to encourage more edible fungi in your forest garden, and he also showed us an oyster mushroom log that he had stimulated to fruit before we came.  It is possible to have a number of logs that are ready to produce mushrooms and trigger them in turn so as to have a continuous supply of mushrooms.  I have tried unsuccessfully to grow mushrooms on newspaper ‘logs’.  I think that because I wrapped them in bin liners to keep them damp the spawn was suffocated, so I may have another go.

Martin Crawford
Martin Crawford at Dartington

 

There are a number of trees that Martin grows for leaf crops, either as salad greens or as cooked vegetables.  One that I recently got is Toona sinensis or toon tree (visible as tall shrub layer in top photo).  This has leaves that when young, are eaten as a vegetable in china.  We tried a little leaf, and it tastes rather like an aromatic onion.  Salad leaves include small leaved lime (tilia cordata), which has quite pleasant mild tasting young leaves, beech (fagus sylvatica), which I always find a bit tough even when young, and white mulberry.  We tried the leaves of the latter, and again I found it a bit tough, although not unpleasant in flavour.  It may have been better when younger, or cooked though.  Martin pollards all these trees to keep a supply of young leaves in easy reach, but out of reach of browsing deer.

mulberry leaves
White mulberry leaves (at left)

Other interesting shrubs included relatives of the common bog myrtle, which itself has edible leaves used like bay leaves.  The wax myrtle has similar uses for the leaves and also the berries have a waxy coating that can be melted off and used in candles and sealing etc.  These are nitrogen fixing in boggy ground, so may be ideal in certain areas of my field!  I do have the wax myrtle on my list of ‘wants’, although I am having difficulty in getting seed to germinate.  You need male and female plants to set berries.  I do have some bog myrtle down by the river, although am not sure whether they are male or female.  It is useful if caught by midges, since they don’t like it’s aromatic foliage.

wax myrtle
Not that great a picture of wax myrtle!

Another nitrogen fixing tree is the judas tree.  We did see this at EDFG, but didn’t know what it was.  Martin had a good sized tree which I asked about.   Prior to arriving at Dartington, we saw another in a green space where we had our picnic lunch.  It has distinctive heart shaped leaves.  Apparently the flowers are edible and come out before any of the foliage on bare branches.  I collected some seedpods from the one we saw at our picnic spot, so I may see if I can get some seed to germinate.

We tried some sechuan pepper seeds, they are very peppery and made my lips and tongue numb for a few minutes.  Apparently this doesn’t happen with the dried fruit, which can be mixed with salt and ground together for salt and pepper seasoning.  I quite fancy trying to grow this.  Apparently there are lots of similar shrubs all called sechuan pepper, so I’ll have to check with Martin the one that he uses!  Nepalese pepper is quite similar, but ripens later, so is less likely to be suitable on Skye.

An interesting edible that I didn’t remember from my reading is the Trachycarpus ‘palm tree’.  Apparently it has huge flowers that can be used like cauliflower.  I know this will grow locally here on Skye, and I did have a couple but gave them away since I wasn’t sure where to put them.  I sort of regret that now!

Trees that I forgot to mention from EDFG that we also saw in the Dartington garden were alternative haws.  There are several plants closely related to our native hawthorne that have bigger and nicer berries.   I have one, Crataegus arnoldiana, although it hasn’t flowered for me yet.  Martin had several haws which we were able to sample the fruit of.  I have ordered seeds of lots of different varieties from the ART to try and grow this year.  If I find one that does well for me, I may be able to graft it on to the common hawthornes.

There was a clear area under a huge pine tree that Martin sometimes uses as an outdoor classroom.  He says it is important not to forget the people in the garden and have a space for them to use.  It was impressive that the huge tree had been grown by Martin from seed (as were most of the more unusual trees we saw).  He talked about harvesting resin from the tree and the uses it has (turpentine, rosin etc.).

edible pond
Edible pond area

A pond area was also planted with edible plants: Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia – has edible tubers), mint (needs no explanation) and Houttuynia Cordata.  This last we tried a leaf of.  It has a strange fishy orange taste that I wasn’t too keen on but some others liked.  It is a popular vegetable with fish in china.  A little research reveals that in some climates it can be invasive, but I don’t think I’ll bother with it, although I do fancy developing an edible pond/bog area below the barn!

In summary, this was a truly inspirational visit again.  Such a treat for me to meet Martin Crawford who has done so much for the development of agroforestry in the UK and internationally.

Off topic : Sunshine Blogs

sunshine-blogger

Much to my surprise, I received this award which is “peer recognition for bloggers who inspire positivity and joy” from Suzanne Craig-Whytock at mydangblog. I have followed her for a while, mainly because she makes me laugh and we all need a bit of happiness.  Also her dog looks a bit like Dougie.  So thank you Stephanie.

This means I have to answer questions she set and in the spirit of things pass it on, although I think she cheated, so since that must be in the spirit of the award, I’ll do that too! Some of the questions she left open for us to choose, so I’ll answer some of the ones I get asked in the shop (questions in colour).  Here goes:

1) What country do you come from?

I come from England but have emigrated to the Isle of Skye which is Scotland.  Before I came here I don’t think I appreciated that Scotland is a different country, now I realise how ignorant people can be south of the border, so much for United Kingdoms!

2) Which way is Neist Point?

For info. Neist Point is the most westerly point on Skye, and the reason that tourists are coming through the glen.  Due to the curvature of the earth, we are actually more westerly here than Cornwall, so I sometimes amuse people by telling them that we are the most westerly shop you can drive to in the UK without taking a ferry (Skye has a bridge).  I digress – take a left towards the sea, past the old school.  Don’t go straight on at the next bend, bear right which is the main road.  Take the second left signposted ‘light hoose’, and follow that to the end of the road and then stop (or you’ll end up over the cliff!).

3) What do people do here?

Generally tourists are interested in how people make a living on Skye.  The sad fact is that most people who live on Skye don’t need to make a living, they come here to retire.  Those children that are educated and brought up on Skye, often move away to university and never come back.  The main employer is the council, and the main industry is tourism.  Those that are left are mainly self employed, so we have a range of tradesmen, artists, archetects and webdesigners….most crofters have second or third incomes since sheep are more a way of life than a money earner.

4) Do you have a bathroom?

This is one of the examples of Britain and (particularly) the US being separated by a common language.  To a Brit a bathroom is a room with a bath, to an American a bathroom is a room with a toilet.  I have to grit my teeth at this one and keep on smiling, because to be frank it is a sore spot for me and the cafe over by.  The powers that be have promoted Scotland and Skye as a tourist destination which is great, however, they have attracted lots of people that are trying to ‘do Scotland’ rather than have a holiday here.  What I mean is they are rushing from place to place with a tight itinery not appreciating that the highlands are still quite a wild place (which is why we like it) and isn’t set up with toilets on every corner.  I’ll just say there are no public toilets in Glendale and the nearest toilets are at least 20 minutes drive down a single track road and stop there shall I?

5) What is your dream destination?

If I had one flight anywhere in the world I would love to visit New Zealand.  We did projects on the country several times at primary school and I have always fancied a trip there.  The scenery, the wildlife and the climate all are attractive, and it isn’t filled with bitey stingy things and people.  Never Australia, which is funny since I have ended up with two sisters there.  Now I don’t fly for moral reasons (see here) but I will be tested in 2020 when my younger sister wants to mark a special birthday with a family reunion in NZ (my mum’s choice rather than Oz too). Do I go or not……

6) Why did you burst out laughing in a meeting on Thursday?

This was one of mydangblog’s questions and I’m trying to think of a good answer.  I don’t go to meetings, so I could cheat and leave it at that.  However, I was in the shop in the morning.  It’s not really like working, because I consider most of our local customers my friends, they are all neighbours.  Usually Brian makes me laugh with stories of things he’s been getting up to (usually involving tourists in vehicles, or BT), although I don’t think he was in that morning so I may pass on that one, sorry!

7) What is your favourite movie?

We don’t go out to the cinema much (although they do show films at the Aros centre on Skye which is only a 50 minute drive away).   We also don’t watch TV and haven’t since we moved here ten years ago, so are not really up to date on any modern films!  We do (very occasionally) watch DVDs and S. has been trying ‘netflicks’ recently, although that is not likely to take off due to the internet locally really falling over….For relaxing I do like a good romantic comedy: anything with Meg Ryan.  Also Highlander: beautiful scenery (even if a lot of it was Ireland), Local Hero: we can really relate to that now! and Gregory’s Girl, no matter how many times we watch it it still makes me laugh (S. can recite whole passages at the right prompt words).  At Xmas we watch all the James Bond films.  Sometimes back to back, sometimes in random order (“tonight let’s have….bad girls” (usually Goldeneye))

8) What crazy thing did you do on Friday night?

Saturday is a working day, although in the summer we do allow ourselves an extra half hour in bed so the craziest I got was just having cheesecake for my dinner rather than a proper meal.  We have taken to eating earlier, because by the time I get home from the shop I can’t be bothered to cook and it’s a bit late for a big meal.  Also see Q 10.

9) Are you happy with your current life?

I am so happy 😃!  I love it on Skye, the peace, quiet and scenery.  I love being my own boss.  I like running a shop and meeting customers (most of them anyhow!) although it’s even better now we can afford to pay people to run the shop for us sometimes and give me a bit more time at home.  I love having a bit of land to play with and grow trees.  That’s not to say I don’t have plans….

10) Do you have any new and interesting bathroom stories?

See Q4?  On my recent trip to the west country I was able to use a couple of composting toilets.  I was visiting sites without mains sewerage and they had chosen to create facilities that enabled them to return nutrients in human waste to the soil.  Urine in particular is high in nitrogen and other minerals that gardeners often pay good money to give their plants the correct dose of.  At EDFG Sagara had a lovely composting loo with a urine separator.  It really looked like a very simple and effective system.  At the field (which I have not yet ‘blogged about yet) they have an equally effective but less conventional hole in the ground system.  They are trying to raise money to put in a more socially acceptable facility for visitors so as to be able to run more educational events and have more volunteers.  I also got really sidetracked on Friday with a thread on permies about why some women don’t like to urinate outside – well you did ask!

About sunshine blogger award

The Rules:

Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link back to their blogging sites.

Answer the questions.

Nominate 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 new questions.

Notify the nominees about it by commenting on one of their blog posts.

List the rules and display the sunshine blogger award logo on your site or on your  post.

 

So mydangblog has bent the rules, we only got ten questions.  I will nominate

The propagator

 

 

 

 

 

Anni Kelsey

Your questions are…..

1) what country do you come from?

2) Why did you start your blog?

3) What’s your earliest memory?

4) Who would you most like to meet?

5) What plant is your favourite?

6) What item (not people or animals) would you rescue first from your home in the case e.g. of fire or flood?

Add as many more questions as you like (try for 11).  If you don’t fancy doing it, don’t worry and thank you all for the inspiration you give anyhow!

🙋🌿🌞

 

 

East Devon Forest Garden

This garden was the first visited on our holiday.  It is one of the first forest gardens I’ve visited at all, except in my imagination.  Mine is still mainly in the fourth dimension!  There used to be one at Ryton organic gardens, but I think they found it too messy so got rid of it.

pond in sunset
Enjoying the evening sun by the sheltered pool

Sagara has created the East Devon Forest Garden (EDFG) over the last eight years or so.  I found out about it through Facebook so that does have some uses!  Despite ill health he has created a wonderful space in a bit less than three acres.  His vision is of a spiritual foraging retreat, where people can reclaim their souls through browsing in the garden.  Certainly there is a tranquil feel throughout the garden.  So many of the plants are edible, that we had to repeat a mantra ‘not everything in a forest garden is edible’ because you get used to tasting everything after a few days.  There was plenty of wildlife.  We saw butterflies and birds, evidence of moles and Sagara says they have a family of hedgehogs as well as pigeons.

colourful amaranth
Colourful amaranth in sunny spot

The main technique that I took away from the garden was probably the use of earthworks and hedges to create banks that made sheltered, sunny or shady areas and formed microclimates for plants that require different conditions.  Fast growing italian alder had been planted around the periphery of the garden.  These are now over 25 feet tall so form a screen and give the garden even more of a tranquil enclosed feel.  As a nitrogen fixer it also provides nitrogen through soil fungal networks to other plants in the garden.  A leylandii hedge screens a simple yet sophisticated composting loo and provides shelter for the herb area and main vegetable production plots, which are closer to the buildings than the more seasonal tree crops.  A mowed trackway enables vehicular access around the garden, although separate pedestrian paths meander slightly different routes.  I found it quite easy to become disoriented and the garden seemed much bigger than it is.  This is also due to the multiple circular clearings and asymmetric free form design.  The largest circle had a tall earthbank surmounted by fruiting Elaeagnus bushes and enclosing a beautiful natural swimming pool.  Steps go down into it and it is filled from a spring borehole, the water circulating through gravel beds planted with aquatic plants to keep the water clean.  Stone alcoves retain the day’s heat to protect the most tender plants here: olives, figs and citrus trees have set fruit this year.  There are also Echium and hardy bananas, grapes and palm trees, and a little pointed running alpine strawberry still has fruit ripening.

solar powered shower
Solar powered shower block

In the establishment of the garden Sagara had ploughed and seeded the plot with deep rooted plants like chiccory and plantains, before doing the earth moving and planting the larger trees, then smaller trees and shubs.  The site is loam over clay, quite flat and a bit liable to frost with cold north winds.  He is still planting the ground cover layers, which, because it requires many plants, can be a slow, labour intensive and expensive business.   We helped clear an area and plant out some perennial brassica with Sagara.

Over time the garden area should become a net carbon sink as the plants and the soil convert carbon dioxide into more stable wood and humus.  At present the garden still has quite an open feel about it, and I would love to go back in a few years to see how it matures.  I’m a bit envious of the kinder climate there compared to Skye.  My sweet chestnuts are tiny in comparison to Sagara’s.  The biggest of mine is only as tall as me, the smallest that survived is only a foot or so after nearly ten years!  Sagara’s were probably taller after three years than mine are now and now at six years old are beautiful trees of fifteen feet or so.  However, he has already had frosts that damaged the squash plants, and there are no squirrels on Skye.

sweet chestnut
Sweet chestnut fruiting at 6 years old

One of the beds was given over to edible flowers, I wasn’t aware that Gladioli and Dahlia petals are edible, and it was fascinating that each flower was also a slightly different flavour, some sweeter, some more complex.  The chinese chive flowers made a lovely addition to our supper with a sweet onion crunch.

autumn olive
Autumn olive fruit

New foods I was able to try included the autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata).  This has a very pleasant sweet tart taste.  The berries are a little small being a bit smaller than currants, but are borne in profusion along the branches.  They are also extremely pretty berries: orangey-red and flecked with gold!  We picked about four pounds or so which Sagara is going to use to make a jam with.  The spring fruiting Elaeagnus were in blossom and the fragrance is lovely.  We also tried sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) berries.  These are very fragile, tending to burst as you pick them and are even smaller and more profuse.

sea buckthorn
Sea buckthorn fruit

The flavour is sharper, more acidic, and Sagara had several different cultivars which all had different flavours; one had a noticable pineapple flavour, and even the unimproved form has a very pleasant mandarin taste.  They are very high in vitamin C and often used in juice form, sweetened or blended with other fruit.  Both Elaeagnus and sea buckthorn are nitrogen fixing, the sea buckthorn seeming to have a tendency to sucker.  Sagara had his first nuts on his bladdernut (Staphylea Pinnata) this year, these are a little small due to the hot summer.  Inside a one inch inflated balloon fruit is a single shiny nut.  This has a very hard but thin seed coat and a sweet flavour.  It is said to be like pistachio.

japanese spring vegetables
Petasites and Hosta on shady side of earth bank

Other plants I haven’t tried yet that Sagara is growing include several Japanese spring vegetables: Hosta, Udo (Aralia) and Petasites are all garden perennial plants that can be cooked and eaten in the spring, as is american pokeweed (Phytolacca), although I gather this last is also considered to be toxic so take care!  One plant we didn’t try was the turkish rocket (Bunias orientalis).  This was a huge dandelion like plant which is supposed to taste mustardy.  I suspect that would not go down too well in our house, although the plants did look lovely and robust, so I may give it a go anyhow!  Colourful amaranth seedheads surrounded a large fruiting medlar, and several grapes were ripening up trees and scrambling on the sunny banks.  Other perennial vegetables Sagara grows include Sea cabbage and sea kale, perennial kale and walking stick kale, oca, Yacon, mashua, japanese yams, walking onion, artichokes (both sorts) and asparagus.  Fruit includes apples, plums and other top fruit as well as sechuan pepper, quince (chaenomeles as well as cydonia) mulberry and kiwi.  Nuts include hazel, chestnut, walnut and heartnuts and there are a multitude of other purposeful plants providing fibre, shelter, food or nitrogen fixing.  I was particularly interested in the miscanthus grass that Sagara is growing as sheltering hedges.  This is like a small thin bamboo and I had been wondering if we are warm enough on Skye for it to do well.  It grows up to 2 or 3 metres tall in a year once established, creating shelter and forming woody stems that can be cut since they are renewed each year.  This produces a large amount of biomass so it has been planted for biofuels in many parts of the UK.

miscanthus grass
Miscanthus grass surmounts earthworks by trackway

As a place for people to meet, eat and communicate Sagara has a number of structures through the garden.  We were lucky enough to stay in a beautiful yurt tent, although he is in the process of taking the canvas structures down for winter.  There are sculptures and statues in various niches in the garden, but the whole thing is a work of art.  Such abundance of food now, in contrast to the now sterile seeming horse paddock it replaced.  We had a lovely discussion with Sagara about farming and hunter gathering, money and land, spirit and body which I really can’t do justice to here.  Overall an inspiring start to the holiday (and it was sunny!).

yurt
Our Yurt next to italian alder edge plants

 

 

BMW i3 electric car review

BMWi3
BMW i3 at EDFG

I’d never driven an electric car but have been thinking about converting my Range Rover, which has no engine at the moment, to run on electricity.  The costs of the batteries and motors are a bit prohibitive, bearing in mind how little I use a vehicle, so this has gone a bit on the back boiler.  However, when planning our holiday to the West Country, it seemed a reasonably sensible thing to try and hire an electric car while we were down there.  I try and consider my carbon footprint (see here if you would like a quick calculator for your carbon dioxide contribution. Other calculators are available online) so wasn’t driving all the way down or (perish the thought) flying.  Initially the idea was to hire a car in Bristol, but internet searches didn’t reveal any electric car hire there. I eventually found EVision who hire electric cars out of Diggerland Devon, which we decided was better anyhow, being closer to our destinations.  I first wanted a Renault Zoe since it was cheaper to hire and had more range, but it was not available on the days we wanted, so I decided to go with the BMW.

I’m not that keen on the styling of the BMW, but then most modern cars leave me pretty cold.  The passenger accommodation was spacious and comfortable for two, although the luggage space was a bit disappointing – I have since found out that there is space under the boot floor for a small generator as an optional ‘range extender’.  This compromises the package for the pure electric model like this one. We ended up putting our rucksacks on the back seat and strapping them in like additional passengers.  The handover was quite brief, but even if it had been twice as long it may not have helped.  I had a quick introduction to the controls and a little drive round the empty carpark.  Very quiet when moving, since there is no engine noise, it is uncanny to put your foot down and feel the silent acceleration push you back into your seat.  The initial range was 146 miles (a full charge) but we only had a short hop to the East Devon Forest Garden (EDFG) so we did not have to bother about charging for a couple of days.  The car was equipped with two leads for plugging in to roadside chargers or the mains.  Most roadside chargers seemed to include leads, but not all.  AC was worried that someone might steal the lead whilst we were gone (she’s lived too long in Birmingham – or I’ve been too long on Skye), but as it turned out the socket was locked by the car when you start charging.  Anyone who tried to cut through the cable when powered up would be sorry I suspect.  The leads were stored in a shoebox sized compartment under the bonnet along with some tools.

carbon fibre
Carbon Fibre bodywork visible in door shut area

I found the car easy and pleasant to drive.  It has far more acceleration than I would use – easily keeping up with other traffic.  I gather the car is limited to 94mph.  The instrument display was mainly taken up by an economy meter which I found a bit distracting.  A pale highlight floats on a blue curved scale.  To the right the car is using electricity and to the left it is generating it.  The car starts generating as you lift off the accelerator, using the braking effect of the generator to slow the car down.  By keeping the indicator in the centre of the scale the range is optimised.  This means you become one of those annoying drivers that accelerate down hill and decelerate uphill whilst trying to keep the floating point in the optimum position.  BMW have obviously worked hard to make this a light weight vehicle.  The body work is carbon fiber composite which is visible in the door shut areas.  The dash and other trim is naked to an educated eye, which I quite like, but may seem harsh to some.  I loved the really tight turning circle the car had – probably due to the rear wheel drive.  I don’t think I’ve experienced a better one since (don’t laugh!) the LDV Pilot vans which were also great.  The doors are a little odd with a small suicide door leaving a huge side opening if access to the rear seats is required.  Personally I think it might have been better to have tilting seats and a standard three door configuration, but it was quite cute.

suicide doors
Suicide rear doors

I rarely needed to use the actual brakes on the move (which would be wasted energy!).  The hand brake is a button down near the centre cubby box.  It is automatically released when the accelerator is pressed to pull away.  There is no need to change gear during forward motion – just like an automatic gearbox.  A gear selector on a hand control selects forward, reverse and neutral by twisting the end.  When we stopped at EDFG I couldn’t work out why the car would not turn off properly – it kept saying that the gearbox needed to be put in park.  This meant I couldn’t lock the car.  We left the car and came back to it later and it seemed to have reset itself, but then the same message came up.  Eventually through the handbook and the on board information system I worked out that there was an additional switch on top of the gear selector that selected a Park position.  All happy at last, I could lock the car and hence comply with the insurance requirements.  This was the only real niggle I had with the car – the teutonic arrogance of the controls!  BMW have this annoying rotary knob thing to navigate through the menus on the central computer display and let’s just say it’s not that intuitive.  I think if you drove a BMW for a few months you would get used to it, but it certainly takes more than a few days!

hidden at eden
Rapid charge point hidden away at Eden

Charging the car up was always going to be the most challenging part of the trip.  It actually turned out to be even less easy than I had thought.  Not the actual charging part – which in the main turned out to be pretty much as simple as plugging in an electric automatic kettle, but the access to information about charge points was even less easy than I had thought.  The BMW has a navigation system display which did indicate some (not all) charge points.  We didn’t have access to the manual on the computer system, so it may be that more information about the charge points was there, but certainly it was not obvious.  I don’t have a smart phone.  OK I don’t even have a mobile phone.  If I need one I sometimes borrow my husband’s, but on this occasion I decided not to.  My friend AC had loaded the zapmap app onto her phone, but it didn’t seem to have the same functionality as the website.  We could work out where the charge points were, but couldn’t seem to filter by public access and charging network.  Silly though it seems, you can’t just use any charge point to charge up your electric car. No.  First it has to have a compatable plug.  Then most don’t just take a credit card, some you need to join a club beforehand, some you need a smart phone (that’s me out for a start then!) some are free after you pay for parking, or for customers of the venue (like the slower charge ones at Eden project).  So assuming that you have found the charge point (none of the ones we found were signposted except once you’d found them) have mobile and/or internet access to activate them and pay for it, you simply plug the car in and magic happens.

plugged in
Plugged in to ‘fuel filler’

On the BMW a light surrounds the charging flap and bizarrely flashes different colours as it goes through the process.  We never did quite work out what the car was up to – it seemed to slow the charge rate down if we opened doors, and only displayed the charge state if it was on (and therefore slower charging?).  The other thing to bear in mind about charging is that not all charge points are created equal.  We charged up at three different public charge points and also a standard three pin mains outlet.  Different charge points have different charging rates and so will ‘fill up’ the battery more or less quickly.  For example the rapid charge facility at Eden, which was the fastest we used, put about 10kWh of energy in in one hours charge, although it was nominally a 43 kW charger (I think now we may have plugged in the wrong lead so getting a reduced rate) .  In contrast the three pin socket put about 25 miles equivalent in two hours (the BMW didn’t display electricity, only miles) this would equate to 5 kWh so appears to be only a quarter the speed of the most rapid charge available.  Also the mains outlet only charged the car upto 131 miles so couldn’t put the full range into the battery (maximum on rapid facility was 146 miles).  The speed will depend upon the state of charge of the car battery as well as the power of the charge point, and the charging controls on the car.  The costs for charging were all fairly reasonable (except the overstay fee at the Geniepoint rapid charge facility at Eden project which we hope AC will get back)  I worked it out to be about 5p a mile.

charging at dartington
Charging at Dartington

On the move it was amusing to watch the car’s range change.  Interestingly it didn’t just go down.  I was expecting the range to be optimistic and overstate the range available but this doesn’t seem to be the case.  Although we did not check the full range out (the lowest we got to was about 35 miles or so) often at the start of the journey the range would actually increase a bit.  We put this down to the batteries warming up – I have heard that you get reduced mileage in the winter when the weather is colder.  However this doesn’t explain why when we went to Heligan from Eden and back again (to use the rapid charger again), which is a round trip of 20 miles, we only used 10 miles of range!  On our final return journey which was about 100 miles we started off with about 30 miles to spare and ended up with about 60 miles left.  I guess I’m not as heavy footed as the average BMW driver!

In summary we drove about 320 miles on the holiday and would definitely recommend the BMW i3 as a practical small car if you can afford it and know where you can charge it up.  I wouldn’t recommend an electric hire unless you are prepared for a bit of additional ‘excitement’.  I would give the car about 8 out of 10 – losing points because of it’s odd BMW controls.  I would give the UK government about 2 out of 10.  If they really want to phase out the internal combustion engine they need to get the charging infrastructure sorted out.  We need more charge points, better signage and information about them (why is zapmap apparently the only universal online list of charging points?), information whilst charging and simpler payment methods.

charge point at Eden
Absolutely no info on this (free) charge point at Eden

Now about that electric Range Rover……

 

 

Holiday 2018

I think this may have been my first self indulgent holiday since moving to Skye.  Don’t get me wrong, there is nowhere else I would rather be, but sometimes it is difficult to have ‘me time’ when there is the shop to be seen to, food to be cooked and housework to make an effort at.  I took Wednesday to the following Wednesday off to spend a few days camping in the West Country (Devon and Cornwall) to visit some interesting gardens and see some plants that I have only seen in pictures or as my immature specimens.  I was also able to sample some of the new fruits that I am, or am thinking of, growing.

I travelled down to Birmingham by bus and train on the first Wednesday, arriving a little more than an hour late in Birmingham due to issues with signaling at Euston (delayed staff handover).  There I stayed with my friend AC, before travelling together to Tiverton in Devon by train.  This journey went via Wales due to electrification works at Bristol, so amusingly I went through three of the four ‘countries’ that make up the UK in the holiday.  Wales is technically a principality, but I’m not really sure what that means.  Cornwall also used to be a separate nation and still has the remnants of a language closely related to Breton, but also with similarities to Welsh and Gaelic languages.

Near Tiverton I had arranged to pick up an electric hire car: a BMW i3.  I have been interested in electric car technology since working in the automotive industry and since they can be considered a more environmentally friendly way of getting round (see here) I thought it would be fun (and it was!).  I will post more about the car adventures here.

bmw i3
BMW i3 – rapid charging at Eden

We picked up the car from Diggerland, which is a theme park just off the M5 motorway where you can play in various sized excavators.  It was closed since I think it is only open weekends outside of the school holidays.  Probably a fun place to take kids of all ages though! We noticed a huge monkeypuzzle growing in the lawn of the original house – a sign of gardens to come…..

We then drove the car a short distance to the East Devon Forest Garden.  This wonderful oasis in a sea of horse paddocks was conceived and created by Sagara over the past eight years. There is plenty written about Forest Gardens and permaculture, so I will just write a little review of our time here later and put some links in.  At EDFG I started to feel a little envious of the kinder climate and soil.  Sagara has sweet chestnut trees that were probably bigger at three years old than mine are at nine!  However, he has already had some mild overnight frosts and I don’t expect any till later in November….

EDFG swimming pond
Natural swimming pond at EDFG

We stayed with Sagara two nights rather than rushing off, and then drove down to the Agroforestry Research Trust’s 24 year old forest garden at Dartington.  I had booked us on a tour of the garden with one of my heroes: Martin Crawford (I’ll put a review here).  The date of this tour was what fixed the holiday date, since Martin only runs them a few times a year, and I had to fit it into off season for the shop.  I’d love to visit his other sites, maybe next time.

martin crawford dartington
Martin Crawford explaining something in his Forest Garden

We managed to charge up the car a bit at Dartington, since they have several charging units in the car park, although we arrived too late to get it set up whilst we were on the tour so didn’t manage a full charge.  AC managed to arrange to stay at Sconner Down, one of the camp sites I had obtained details for.  I think the others were pretending to be full, but had actually closed for the season.  We got to the site in time to put our tent up before it got dark.  A lovely quiet site up a single track road (sounds familiar…).  It still seems to be lighter on Skye than further south, although this will soon change….

sunrise
Campsite Dawn

We drove to the Eden Project the next day.  They have a number of charging facilities, although we had a bit of hassle with the rapid one which was a bit hidden away.  Hopefully AC will be able to get back the fine that was imposed because we were late back for the first hour’s charge.  Eden is just as fantastic as I remember (I will put a post here).  They also gave us a discount off our admission to the lost gardens of Heligan which was planned for the following day.  We wore ourselves out here; the extra trips back and forth to the distant charge point probably didn’t help.

eden domes
Eden domes

After a second (early) night at the campsite we visited the lost gardens the following day (I’ll post a review here), also stopping at Eden in both directions to charge up at the rapid facility.  The first time gave me a second chance to visit the wild Chile area, the second time we had a late lunch.  It was amusing to me that the car used only ten miles of range to cover a twenty mile round trip.  Unfortunately part of the gardens at Heligan were closed, but we probably wouldn’t have had time for them all anyway.

heligan
Tropical effect at Heligan

Our final overnight stop was at the plants for a future (PFAF) site where we helped Addy Fern harvest some apples and had a quick tour round (hopefully another review here).  I’m sorry we couldn’t stay longer, because there was much more to see, and I think Addy would have appreciated more help. We managed a top up charge using a three pin plug on the car which gave us a full(ish) battery of electricity for the return to Diggerland on our way back.

tent in orchard PFAF
Camping in the Orchard

We were able to go back via Bodmin moor, which I wanted to do since I had found one branch of my mum’s family originates from that area. A great great something….grandfather seems to have commuted with his family backwards and forwards between dockyard at Plymouth and farm work on Bodmin in the early 19th century.  I had a look in the church and both graveyards and was surprised to find some family graves still there.

cardinham church
Church at Cardinham near Bodmin

Overall I had a really great break, and have lots of exciting plants to think about and a few more seeds to sow!

 

 

Orchard, Autumn and Tomatoes

I managed to just about finish clearing the section of orchard I was aiming to.  The weather has turned a bit damp now – so I’ve lost this years’ window for weeding.  The soil just gets too claggy when it’s wet.  I’ve left a nice sorrel plant there, and I may transplant some more in there.  I have found some with lovely large leaves in various places round the field.

large leaved sorrel
Large leaved Rumex acetosa – common sorrel

I have also planted a few of my seedling heath pea plants along the border which I plan to keep digging up, and a marsh woundwort plant as well.  I haven’t got round to tasting the roots of this yet.  It is related to crosnes (stachys affinis) and like crosnes the roots are edible.  This plant was rather pot bound.  It had been sitting in a puddle next to the polytunnel all year – an offset from the bought in plant.  I’m hoping it will be damp enough for it at the side of the orchard there.  We can get quite a bit of water coming down the track at times, as well as being generally damp climate wise.  The roots certainly look like they could be quite productive – long and tender.  I did snap a few bits off and popped them in the fridge, but forgot they were there when I cooked dinner yesterday.  I also put a couple of seedling lathyrus tuberosa (earthnut pea) seedlings.  These are from seed that I was sent (thanks Anni).  Unfortunately with one thing and another (weather and neglect!) I only have four seedlings and one of these looks a bit poorly.  I’ve put plant pot collars on them, since I have read that slugs really like these plants.  I’m thinking that they can climb up the apple tree.  Not the ideal spot for a root crop, but if they grow and like it there I can maybe propagate more plants from these.

orchard view north
Orchard view to North

I also spread around loads of seed: firstly some of the green manure seeds I obtained recently.  I spread field beans and fodder radish fairly generally over the whole area and red clover selectively around the bases of the honeyberries and apple tree.  It may be a bit late for the fodder radish, but I’m hoping that it will stay mild for long enough for them to put on a bit of growth before the winter (I can already see shoots coming on the field beans just a couple of days later!).  I also sowed some other legume seeds that I collected:  birds foot trefoil and bush vetch (vicia sepium).  I have been enjoying the odd nibble on the latter as it has reappeared around the tree field (see here for a little foraging guide).  The birds foot trefoil makes a nice low growing ground cover – it should be nitrogen fixing, but I’m not sure how well it will keep down the weeds.  This is the first time I’ve tried sowing it direct.  I did sow some in the spring in pots, but didn’t get a good success rate (again weather and neglect…): one plant.  I also spread some sweet cicely seed and good king henry which both have done well for me in the tea garden a little up the hill.  They both seeded themselves a bit up there, but I want to transplant those seedlings elsewhere.

birds foot
How bird’s foot trefoil gets it’s name

I started trying to dig out couch grass and docken from the rest of the orchard on the north side of the track.  There is a fair amount of both and I haven’t quite finished that.  It’s only a rough going over.  I will mulch it with newspaper and card and try and give it another go during next summer depending on priorities.  I did get out some of the silver weed I planted there in the spring this year.  It is still a bit early – they are in full leaf, and the roots look very white.  Generally they are up to 6 inches long and up to one quarter inch diameter.  I’m going to transfer some to the track border.  I may see if I can use them for pathways in the orchard area.  They have made a reasonable coverage after a bit of editing in the tea garden and certainly spread like mad!

It’s starting to feel a little autumnal now.  The first trees to lose their leaves are the Wych elm, but some of the rowans are turning colour, and one of the beech is rather a nice yellow.  I’m a bit worried by how red this apple tree is.  Last year it was the best for growth, this year it looks a bit strained – the others are all still quite green.  We don’t tend to get much autumn colour here – the winds strip the leaves off the trees before they can put on much of a show.  It looks like it will be a bumper year for hazelnuts – I spotted the first nuts on our own trees (planted 2010), but the ones along the river bank seem quite laden.  I did go along and pick up a fair few from underneath the trees, but they all seem to be empty (either shed by the tree or discarded in disgust by hopeful birds!).  It’s still a bit early.  Usually the birds get the nuts, which is fair enough.  I would quite like to get a harvest off our own trees in due time.  Although they weren’t bought as nutting cultivars, the seeds they apparently came from seemed a fair size.

bumper hazelnuts 2018
bumper crop on hazels by river

The local outside brambles are starting to ripen.  Funnily enough these don’t seem to be bothered by those horrid flies!  There was a new bush that has seeded in at the corner of the river  above the pond, which seems to have quite nice quality berries.

self sown bramble
tasty self sown bramble

Saving the best till last – in the polytunnel this week!

ripe tomatoes
First ripe tomatoes – (super sweet 100)

There was a little mildew or possibly blight on some of the leaves so I’ve pulled a few off the tomato plants.  I’m hoping that I will get more tomatoes ripening over the next month or so before I have to rescue them.  Some comfrey leaves are soaking in a bucket of water at the moment to add some extra tomato feed to try and give them a late boost.

Orchard revisited – more pH testing

toad
Toad in orchard area

I had second thoughts about just re mulching the orchard area.  I knew there was couch grass in there, so I thought it made sense to try and dig that out a bit before re mulching.  I have therefore been gently forking over the area that had been mulched and removing any couch, buttercups etc.  I have made a compost area at the top corner which the buttercups and other less noxious weeds can go, and the couch and the odd persistent dock root is bucketed and removed to my foul weeds pile where they can live happily together.  The soil does seem quite light.  I’m trying not to turn it over, just lift and separate out the weeds so as not to destroy the structure too much.  There already seem to be mycelium in the soil which should help to distribute nutrients to the orchard plants from the alder and other nutrient rich areas of soil.

orchard clearing
forking over the orchard

I’ve been mulling over what I want to plant and how to manage it, although the plan is still very fluid.  I know I want more fruit bushes and some good ground cover plants.  I don’t want it to be too much like a garden, since it is only once removed from a grassy field, so more conventional fruits and discrete herbaceous plants or natives will be preferred.  I have a few black currant bushes on the other side of the orchard that I can transplant, and I’ll take some more cuttings whilst I’m at it.  I may try and stick in some gooseberry cuttings as well – they make a good cordial.  The good king henry has done really well in the tea garden and has taken well as seedling transplants elsewhere.  I’m pretty sure there is still quite a few self seeded plants up in the tea garden, so although I probably won’t use much of it I’ll see if I can transplant some down.  I also have a rather tall fennel plant in the dog resistant garden that would benefit from being divided soon.  I think it would be slightly less tall if in a sunnier spot and that will be a good insect attractant plant.  I did want to put my asparagus plants down there, but I’m not sure I’m brave enough if the couch is still coming back….

S. has moved more rotten rock down to improve the gradient down the steep bit of the trackway (pity I’ve just about finished moving the soil down now!) and this has brought the trackway level up more like that of the orchard soil.  Since the couch grass seems to be in the trackway, I have devised a strategy for the orchard on this side – I will keep a two foot band adjacent to the trackway clear of shrubby perennials and leave it for annuals and root crops.  This way I will have a chance to dig out the couch grass as it comes through again as a natural part of harvesting the root crops each year.  We quite like salsify, but I seldom get round to harvesting it, so that is one possibility.  I could also try Yacon down there – I think it will be a bit more sheltered than the tea garden.  Oca and Mashua are other replant perennials that I may have more of next year.

On the other side of the triangle that makes up the north part of the orchard I have a grass path alongside the burn.  Again this has a bit of couch grass in it.  I’m going to try mulching that out rather than leaving it as grass.  I’ve got on pretty well with the newspaper paths I have made, although I think my supply of sawdust may be running short.  I know I put loads in the fruit garden just to have somewhere to put it a couple of years ago, so I may go and mine some back out!  Hopefully I can pull the couch out from the newspaper if necessary!  At the bottom of the orchard I stuck a load of comfrey roots. Hopefully they will out compete any couch that is liable to come in from that direction.  I still have all the lower part of the orchard to clear as well – that has been growing silverweed (amongst other things!)

blueberry plot
View to holding from opposite hill (taken Sept 2017)

I’m wondering a little whether I worry too much about couch grass.  What would happen if I just left it be?  How competive is it as a weed?  I have a patch of ground further down in the tree field that I am eyeing up as a potential blueberry patch.  It is nice and sheltered by some well grown alder just below the hump towards the south side of the field.  I left it clear of trees deliberately when we planted them since it seemed a little damp (well grown clumps of rushes) so I thought it might suit blueberries who like it wetter in the summer.  I haven’t had much luck with my blueberries in the fruit garden – I think I need a more vigorous variety (I got distracted online the other day choosing some for my fantasy blueberry patch).  Anyway, I took a soil sample from there recently and guess what I found – yes more couchgrass!

pH testing kit
pH indicator chart

I was re-doing a number of pH tests to see how things are now that my earthmoving has nearly finished.  I bought some more barium sulphate and indicator fluid off the internet, but it didn’t come with a colour chart.  The colour chart from my previous test kit is quite difficult to use – the difference between 6.5 and 5.0 is difficult to see so I’ve taken a best guess approach.  All the samples I took from various areas of the garden and tree field, including the polytunnel, were I believe between 5 and 6 except interestingly the tea garden extension which appears to have the highest pH at 6.5.  The polytunnel came out at 5.5 whereas last time it was 7.  I forgot to take a sample from the Habby bed this time.  Anyway 4.5 to 5.5 seems to be the preferred pH range for blueberries and I measured the pH in my proposed spot to be 5.0, so that at least should be fine.

pH test potential blueberry plot
pH test for potential blueberry plot

 

 

 

Polytunnel Update

dotty caterpillar
Dotty caterpillar – not a silver y

Things seem to have been a bit slow in the polytunnel – It’s been a bit cooler and damper but I haven’t been out there much – just a bit of watering and thinning out the grapes.  The main excitement is the number of happy caterpillars I seem to have.  There are several large ones that I see in there: A bright green one, a dull browny coloured one, a dotty one with a waist stripe and one with stripes that match the stalks on the fat hen as it goes to seed.   I think most of them belong to  the silver y moth which I do see in there quite often.  They don’t seem to be doing too much damage:  They quite like the Yacon, but prefer the fat hen to the olive tree.  There are a few holes in the squash leaves but nothing the plants can’t shake off.

silver y moth
Silver y moth in polytunnel

Something has eaten part through one of my dahlia stalks – I think it is probably a slug.  they don’t tend to be too much a problem these days for established plants, but I do get a few helping themselves to my seedlings in pots by the polytunnel door.  The dahlia I grew from seed, which I am quite proud of myself for.  They have lovely dark coloured leaves, and are just starting to form buds.  The seeds are some of those that came from the Hardy Plant Society annual selection.  I had pretty good germination from most of those – probably because they were so fresh.  Dahlia tubers are theoretically edible, although apparently they vary a great deal as to tastiness!  I’m tempted to get some from Lubera who have selected a range of better tasting ones.  You get the flowers and then the tubers to eat, and can replant again for next year.  I have tried some raw a while ago now, and wasn’t particularly impressed, but then you wouldn’t eat a potato raw either would you?  I’ve mounded up the soil around the stem in the hope that it will re-root like a cutting.  There does seem to be another shoot coming from below the damage, but I may lose the flowers of that plant.

My fuchsia berry plant is looking a lot more happy now.  It is in the ground and has a fairly respectable shoot.  Hopefully it is getting it’s roots down to survive there overwinter.  I have pinched off the tip, since in it’s pot last year it grew a bit leggy and tended to droop down with the weight of the fruit – yes they were quite sweet and nice.  My outside fuchsia that came with the house also has quite nice berries.  You have to get them when they are ripe, or they taste more peppery than sweet.  The downside is that they tend to ripen gradually, so there are a few for a nibble but not enough for much of a meal.  I should propagate the bush a bit though, since it would be quite good as a boundary shrub.  It’s a bit late this year – maybe I’ll take some hardwood cuttings overwinter and see how they get on.  The fuchsia berry is supposed to be a bit more tender.  I did try taking some softwood cutting last year, but none of them took – I’ll maybe try again next year, assuming it survives the winter again.

polytunnel plants aug
Miscellaneous polytunnel plants – Yacon at front with oca between, physalis and squash behind

The Yacon seem to be doing pretty well.  I haven’t fed them barring the initial planting with compost, but have tried to give them plenty of water – probably still not as much as they want.  The single plant I put outside in the tea garden extension is also looking pretty good – the warmer start to the summer was probably to it’s liking.  I’m growing Oca for the first time this year (thanks Frances!)  I’ve put two in the polytunnel and one outside.  So far I would say that they don’t like it too hot.  The one outside seemed to do much better than the ones in the tunnel initially when we had all that hot weather.  More recently it’s been a bit cooler and less sunny, and the ones inside have cheered up a bit – a little leggy perhaps.  All three plants look lush and green at the moment.  Apparently they don’t make tubers until the days get shorter, which for us will be at the end of September or so.  At that point the extra protection of the tunnel may pay off, since it should hold off a light frost or two.  I’ve never eaten them so I won’t comment on that yet.

There are flowers starting to develop on my physalis – golden berry, and a few flowers on the courgette.  Those really haven’t done so well this year, but then I generally don’t have gluts to complain of!  The sharks fin melon is climbing well – almost to the roof with buds forming.  The japanese squash has delightful silver splashed leaves which are quite pretty, and again shows promise of buds.  The mashua isn’t looking too good still.  I think the hot weather was definitely not to it’s liking.  They are still really small and hardly starting to climb at all.  Some of the other plants will probably be too late to come to anything. For example the achocha, which I said last year needed a longer season didn’t get planted out early enough again.  Tomatillo and peppers I sowed for the sake of it, but really didn’t look after them enough to get much from them.  The plants are alive, but that’s about all one can say about them.  My sweet potato plants seem to be doing well.  I hope I’ve given them enough water.  When I grew them in our polytunnel in Solihull I think that was the main problem there.  They do have lovely dark coloured leaves, a bit like an ornamental bindweed.  I’ve just let them scramble over the ground, although they would climb given a framework.

drunk flies
Drunk flies on outside Alice bramble

The bramble has not done so well this year as previous years.  As I mentioned in a previous post I’ve had a lot of flies eating the berries (Alice outside remains a complete wash out!).  The flies get so drunk that you can put your finger right next to them without them all flying off.  I’ve still had quite a few berries – enough to make a batch of bramble and apple jelly (clear jelly not jam with bits in), but nowhere as many as previous years.  The bramble and kiwi look very precarious also.  I had to cut some of the support ties for the kiwi at the start of the year, and haven’t got round to replacing them properly.  I had used old tights – the legs make pretty good strong soft bindings.  unfortunately the weight of the vine had made them go thin, and they were cutting in to the trunk quite a lot.  It was actually difficult to extract them as the kiwi was growing around them.  I have started to use strips of pond liner (plenty of that left from around the mice holes!)  This seems to stay more ribbon-like so doesn’t cut in.  It’s a bit more difficult to tie in a knot (especially when supporting a heavy trunk with your third hand!), but seems to be kind to the plants and lasts pretty well.  Tyre inner tubes are also pretty good, but I’m not sure whether they will have the same light resistance as pond liner.

tomatoes aug 12018
Promising tomato trusses

The tomatoes have done really well – lots of lovely trusses have set nicely.  None are ripening yet, but I remain hopeful for a reasonable harvest in the end – so far looking like my best yet here.  Some of the plants have dark spots developing on the older leaves, which I think is a sign of nutrient deficiency.  I probably haven’t fed them enough – just a bucket of comfrey tea between them when I can remember to do it!  It’s actually also the same comfrey residue – so there’s probably not much nutrient left in it.  I should have some time off later this week so will try and cut some fresh comfrey leaves then.

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