Ael Y Bryn – my new Welsh no dig garden

Welcome to Ael Y Bryn! We have now lived here in West Wales for just over a month and are absolutely loving it. It’s an exciting time creating a whole new no dig garden here and exploring our new location. Here I am making an abundant small homestead, mostly on top of grass, which will provide food year round for my family and be rich with biodiversity for the wild things. 

It has, as you can imagine, been an incredibly busy time. All of the packing and planning, and the stress of moving house – waiting for all of the legal things to be sorted, never quite sure when it will all happen. Everything seems to drag on for months and months and then – boom! – suddenly the completion date is a short few weeks away and we’re off to a new country. We have spent months surrounded by boxes, and now there are still boxes everywhere as we gradually unpack.

I also had to pack up everything from the garden that was coming with us: tools, equipment and plants. This meant that as well as a large removal van, the removal firm needed to add a trailer. The first things to be packed were the trees, bushes and plants in pots and trays in the trailer, ready to be planted in their new home.

It was of course a very emotional experience. We had lived in our old home for twenty years, so many memories and good friends there. Once we had exchanged and the removal date was fixed, I was permanently on the verge of tears thinking about leaving – whilst also being excited and looking forward to the new adventure. Very mixed emotions! It was a huge wrench and a leap into the unknown – I had only been here for two short visits in November, my children hadn’t seen it at all, and we knew no one in the local area (I do have friends in West Wales). Fortunately Ruairi (my older son) and I were able to visit here for a quick visit to the garden after exchanging contracts to make arrangements for some tree surgery so he at least could see the location, but strangely we were not able to see in the house until receiving the keys, which is most unusual even in these covid times.

I have been asked a lot why we decided to move, because it is a very big thing to do. Well, sadly Charles decided to end our relationship in May last year. We had been a couple for eight years. We continued to work together in a friendly way, but I felt that the best thing for me was a fresh start somewhere else.

We all love it here: myself and my three young adult children who are all students, attending universities elsewhere, although of course that is all online these days so this is home. It’s amazing really how at home we feel, it’s as if the house and garden are welcoming us. This has been helped enormously by the friendly welcome of neighbours and the extraordinary scenery around us. The house is on a steep narrow lane which leads to the top of a hill, from where one can see for miles and miles to several different mountain ranges. The lane leads on to a Roman road called Sarn Helen and from there to gorgeous walks with forests, moorland, rugged rocks, rivers and streams, ancient monuments and sheep. Lots and lots of sheep!

The coast is a short drive away and we have been having a fantastic time exploring and eating chips on the beach. My sons have even been swimming. The sunshine was glorious but it was rather cold for plunging into the sea, but that did not deter them.

The house is constructed from local stone and stands in just under half an acre. It is lovely, with very thick walls and dark grey Welsh slate floors downstairs. These are brilliant for gardeners – don’t show the mud! And really good wifi, which is necessary for my work. I am not showing many photos of the actual house because it is our family home, to respect everyone’s privacy. The house and garden are no open to the public, although I do plan to do courses here in the future.

front garden

There is a smallish front garden which is almost entirely gravel with some plants. Fortunately much of the gravel is on top of mypex so I will be able to remove that and create a more plant-filled environment. The small pond was empty, and now has some native water plants in that I bought online and a small “beach” made from stones so that creatures can escape to safety if they fall in. I am also creating habitats around the pond – when we got here it was the saddest pond in Wales, now it is starting to look a bit more loved.

To the side is a triangular shaped garden with a seat made from old logs, which catches the evening sun. An parking area leads to more gravel, which I will put pots and raised beds on to make that area abundant. The back garden has a small greenhouse (hooray!) and a lawn which will become entirely no dig beds. A gate beside the greenhouse leads to the orchard, with some established fruit trees and bushes. In the orchard I’ve started to make new beds, using different kinds of mulches (one of these has asparagus in), will plant the fruit trees and bushes I brought with me, and in August a polytunnel is arriving. The top part of the orchard will be the family area, where we can eat, camp, have fires and welcome friends.

Sadly one of the first jobs here was removing seven trees which posed a danger to us, a neighbouring property and the electricity power lines. We now have a lot of wood, wood chip and sawdust – plus three 9 ft high trunks which my children have plans for. My plan is to hang hammocks from them!

One of my first visitors here was Huw Richards, who came with his drone to take some “before” shots for me.

I’ve made two no dig beds using peat free compost from Dalefoot in the back garden so far, and have started planting these out – more about that in another post. I’d bought a spring planting garlic because I was expecting to move in early February, so it went in rather late – but as I had it thought I would pop it in and see what happens. I have sown carrots, parsnips and radish, and planted early potatoes here and also in pots. There is lettuce, some brassicas, spinach, spring onions and multi-sown beetroot, many of which were kindly grown for me by Saronne who lives on a smallholding nearby and has a You Tube channel. You can also find here on Instagram as SowGrowandCook. I’ll explain more about making these beds in another post.

Obviously I have just moved and it wasn’t practical to take all of my homemade compost with me – that went to my old neighbour Audrey who used it on her garden. So I had to order some in to get things started, and arranged a delivery from Dalefoot. I did try to get dumpy bags, but this lane truly is very narrow and it just wasn’t possible, so everything came in bags. Not ideal, but it is a one-off, the bags will be used over and over again, and in Wales they can also be recycled. All of the food I will grow will mean less plastic here for years to come, too.

The resources that are here include:

some old compost heaps – badly made and mostly twigs and leaves, so much of that is being re-stacked for composting

sawdust – useful for paths and adding to the compost heaps

wood chip – very fresh, so much of that will be piled up to mature

grass clippings – excited to have this, I didn’t have any grass at my old house because I covered the lawn with a polytunnel!

comfrey and nettles – for composting and liquid feeds

gifts from neighbours – alpaca poo, offers of chicken poo and old sheep fleece

and of course I have set up several compost heaps including one of the hotbins.

The greenhouse is full of seedlings, and I am sowing more today! It is a very exciting time. Things are a bit different this year. The greenhouse is half the size of my old one and I do not have a polytunnel, so I won’t be growing the same number of varieties of warmth loving plants as usual – just a few aubergines, chillies, peppers, melons etc. There is always next year!

So, here we are! Looking forward to making my new Welsh homestead here in Ceredigion.

ps: I am very aware that I am so lucky to have found a nice house with a good sized garden and I really don’t want to come across all “ooo look what I have got”!! This is a very real life situation. I have a large mortgage, like most people, and will be paying it off for years and years. My new life here also includes working to pay the bills and support my family, as well as gardening 🙂




69 thoughts on “Ael Y Bryn – my new Welsh no dig garden”

  1. Thank you for sharing! I am glad you found such a lovely place! Can’t wait for up dates.I love your books. They are jammed packed with what to do with the stuff we grow. Plus they are beautiful!
    Love from Canada,

  2. I think your new home is perfectly lovely. Fantastic views and wonderful countryside.
    Wishing you well in this new life & venture, which I’m sure will be a great success 🥰

  3. So sorry you and Charles have gone separate ways but I am sooo excited for you. You’ve already done so much and I can feel the passion for the place in what you have written. I wish you joy!

  4. Exciting times Steph and you are getting it well organised.all those lovely walks too it will be your own permaculture paradise. So happy for you xxxx

  5. How inspiring. Utterly amazing to see what you are managing to do in such a short space of time.
    Delighted to have you in Wales and can’t wait to see how your new no-dig adventures unfold.

  6. What an exciting adventure and what an a fabulous place that looks. Such an interesting read ….I love the sound of the camping area and the hammocks almost as much as your plans for the no dig garden, Obviously the reasons behind the move are sad but it looks like and sounds like you are flying in your new life. My new start 10 years ago in my 60’s has proved exceptionally happy and I wish you all the very best with yours. Really looking forward to seeing your plans evolve.

  7. Hi Stephanie, I’m following your move with great interest as it’s something I’m thinking of doing once my two (currently 16 & 19) are fully fledged.
    I can relate to all the emotions – I have lived in the same house for 21 years and can’t imagine leaving it and starting again where I know nobody. But the draw of a rural homestead in Wales is huge and has been calling me for a while.
    As for how you come across – to me it is as honest and down to earth, not to mention incredibly brave and hard working.
    Thank you for sharing both here and on Instagram – much appreciated.

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Thank you Jo. I did wonder if I would feel cut off living somewhere so rural, because although there are neighbours so I am not isolated, it’s not quite so easy to get to things as it was in Bruton, where I could walk down my road to shops and cafes, pubs etc in normal times.
      But it is brilliant so far.

  8. Thank you for sharing your journey with us all. Your place looks fabulous and well organized in a short period of time. I look forward to hearing more of your experience and wish you the best in creating new memories. Also, thank you for all the gardening wisdom! 😀

  9. Steph you are amazing !… lovely to read this …it must have been a highly emotional time for you on top of all the organising the house sale ,plants garden and just look how far you have come already. I don’t see you as a look at me ! ……I see you as positive and achieving what you want in life I would have loved to have done exactly the same thing bit late now and I have a gorgeous grandson living close by ….love the stump seats and the camp fire …..all credit to you and to have the beach so close …it’s a wow from me … best of luck on your new venture will be following closely ….Linda

  10. So glad your house move went well and that you’re all settling in nicely. May I ask what you will use the old sheep fleece for, please? I too have been offered some and I’m not sure if I should use them as a thick mulch in place of cardboard when starting some no-dig beds, or if they should be added to the compost heap. Any advice much appreciated, thank you.

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      The plan is to use it as part of the potato mulching experiment. Depending how much I get, will also try it as a mulch elsewhere.

  11. good luck in your new abode. It looks like a lot of hard work and I look forward to seeing what you make of the challenges ahead.

  12. I know your reason for moving is a sad one but I really admire your guts and determination in “upping sticks”, as they say in Ireland, and moving to a new country. I can only imagine how emotional it was for you to move away from a place you obviously loved and thought you would always live there. At least you have your three children with you in your new home so you won’t be too lonely while you are finding your feet and meeting new people. I love reading your updates and the planning of your new garden. It is in a beautiful rural area and you can hear the birds sing, something that I find so serene. I hope you and your children will be very happy in your new home Steph and I look forward to you sharing more updates of your exciting new adventure.

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Thank you Alice, I do appreciate your kind comments. It was almost literally “upping sticks”, moving all of those plants!

  13. Thank you for sharing your news Stephanie. You are so positive and an inspiration! You are in a beautiful part of the world and your new house and grounds look amazing. I will look forward to following how it takes shape. . I’m sure there is lots of hard work ahead but you have your young people with you to help you settle in and I wish you lots of fun and happiness in the process.

  14. I follow you on Instagram and it’s been so interesting to see what you’ve been doing at your new place. Thank you for sharing! It takes courage to make a big move, and it’s so great to see your progress.

  15. Ahhhh, men. Can’t live with them, can’t legally compost them; whattayagonnado. I love your place and if you ever want to live in Oregon, USA, I’d be happy to trade. I’ve loved that area since reading the “All Creatures Great and Small” series. Then, I recently discovered from DNA testing, I have a lot of ancestry from Wales & that area. And, a visit from Huw! You’re living the dream, girl!! I’m just beginning to learn about ecological gardening and will be implementing more chop & drop and leaving stuff alone. But still have no dig for annual veg. Blessings & best wishes to you!

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Thanks Joyce, shall consider the trade if I ever fancy a move over there 🙂 Amazing that you have so much Welsh heritage!

  16. Congratulations on your new abode – it looks lovely, whatever the reasons for the change. 🙂

    Re the working and still trying to do a garden at the same time to pay the mortgage – snap, me too! I’ll be interested to see what tips and tricks you evolve to navigate this that i can ‘pinch with pride’ 😉

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Thanks Diana. It really is lovely here.

      Glad you’re looking forward to me trying to work out the balancing of garden/work/life – pinch away!

  17. Congratulations on finding a lovely new home. Nice that your boys can be with you to help make it feel like a home from day one. New climate, new soil, I look forward to hearing how things go. I moved when I was 59 and although I missed my old friends I found it really invigorating to be somewhere new and 7 years later I still have lots to explore and lots of growing projects on the go.

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Thank you Julie. It certainly is invigorating to be somewhere new, especially after a year of relative same-ness with all of those lockdowns! It sounds wonderful where you are.

  18. Stephanie, you are an inspiration and must be such a strong lady. Wonderful new life ahead. My hubby and I are in reading with a small terrace house a no dig allotment and reluctantly full time office jobs, but plans are afoot to move west and have a homestead. As said you are an inspiration!we will be watching to see new exciting updates from you. Milly.

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Thank you Milly. I have friends in Reading, it’s a great city to live in. How lovely to have plans to move and grow in your own homestead 🙂

  19. Christina Chappell

    How exciting! It’s great that you have found somewhere so lovely to start this next chapter of your life, and I am sure that you are going to have lots of wonderful new experiences. We are on the border of England and Wales, so the best of both worlds, really.

  20. Dear Steph, it’s great to hear about your new adventure…it’s all looking fantastic, and so quickly too…you’re such a grafter! Really sorry about you and Charles, tho it looks like you’re making the most of new opportunities and embracing the change. I’ve recently decamped to N Devon after 25 years in Somerset, and it is a wrench, even tho it’s wonderful here. Spending a lot of time gardening and expanding our growing areas. It’s bloomin hard work, but so worth the effort when you can enjoy eating the fruits of it! Much love and all power to you and your guys. Ruth xx

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Thank you Ruth! Sounds as though you’re creating something wonderful there in Devon

  21. So exciting for you all. Can be daunting too! We moved to North Herefordshire last November and are renovating a very neglected garden. You have inspired me to start on the no dig beds!

  22. Upwards and onwards Stephanie. It sounds as if you have picked a beautiful part of the world – looking forward to reading about your adventures in your new life and garden. You are such a positive spirit.

  23. Your fresh start homestead-garden is looking good, Steph. I hope you settle in quickly and have a happy life here in Ceredigion. You deserve it.

  24. You don’t come across as “oh look at me and what I’ve got” 🙂 – whatever the reasons for your having to move it sound like you’ve landed in a lovely place where you can really spread out and do lots of interesting gardening projects that we all get follow and learn from. Interesting to read your thoughts about moving further away, as we have, maybe, the possibility of buying something that is in a location that would make life more complicated but also offers that chance to do more gardening and stuff for wildlife, especially birds. All the best moving forwards and I’ll be looking forward to reading your posts and instagram.

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Thank you Helle. It is lovely here. Sounds as though you may be having some interesting garden adventures!

  25. Hello Stephanie! It looks and sounds amazing … congratulations! 🏡💃 🌱 you made it! It’s a full on and busy life for you all happy to see that it looks like pleasure ahead = stay well … and thank you, as ever for sharing your advice and how to keep our patch of earth healthy. 😎

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Thank you Clare! It’s so exciting, I am really enjoying learning about this new garden and making plans

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