This week began with the Autumn Equinox, the festival of Mabon, which starts on September 21st
I’ve been working away for a week or so on Charles’ speaking tour. We had a fantastic time meeting keen gardeners across northern England and parts of Scotland, sharing ideas and enthusiasm for no dig methods. Some people were local to the talks, others had driven for several hours to hear Charles speak. It was wonderful exploring some spectacular locations and beautiful wild countryside.
Somerset Garden Day is happening today! I think this is a brilliant idea – of course I don’t need much encouragement to spend time in my garden, but this day is a bit different.
I am writing this in Kent, far from my own garden in Bruton, in the barn of a beautiful flower farm, whilst Charles gives a talk on No Dig gardening. Charles and I were intrigued when we first heard about the idea of Somerset Garden Day and were asked for our help launching the project. We are always keen to help promote ideas that encourage people to enjoy gardens and were delighted to help enthuse people to spend time enjoying their gardens.
The idea of Garden Day is to down tools and spend time celebrating your garden, whatever the size (even a window box!), spending quality time relaxing and consciously taking pleasure from your outdoor space, in whatever way feels good for you. You can spend all day, or just half an hour, enjoying a garden, experiencing the outdoor space and the season with all of your senses.
Garden Day is accessible to everyone – any age, any size of garden. If you have no garden, then spend some time visiting one of the many amazing gardens we have in Somerset – community gardens, private gardens that are open to the public, National Trust properties, wild spaces, riversides, the coast, country walks: pack a picnic, take family and friends, or enjoy some outdoor solitude, whatever appeals to you!
I love the idea because I am absolutely rubbish at just sitting in and enjoying my garden, especially at this time of year when there is so much to do! It gives an opportunity to look at my garden and allotment from a different perspective, as a space to relax and socialise as well as work and grow food. At first I thought that the date was a bit too early in the year – as a veg grower, most of the plantings are quite small especially as it is just after the (hopefully!) last frost date for Somerset. But as I thought more about it, and looked at everything emerging in my garden last week – and the gardens I have visited this weekend in Sussex and Kent – I came to realise what a great time of year it is to encourage people to be outside and get pleasure from the warmer temperatures, let the spring sunlight clear away winter cobwebs, enjoy the pleasure of gorgeous early flowers and the anticipation of everything that is in bud, about to unfurl into summer glory.
As I am not at home, I’m going to make some time to just sit and enjoy my garden next week – and today, we will be celebrating gardens here in Kent, having lunch outside in the sunshine with the course participants in this lovely flower farm. Yesterday I spent time relaxing at Sissinghurst, enjoying the stunning garden there, where many of these photos are from (not Somerset I know, but this is where I am!)
It isn’t too late to enjoy Somerset Garden Day wherever you are, with an impromptu al fresco lunch or supper, invite neighbours round for an early evening glass of wine, search for insects with children, take a comfy chair outside and relax with a book – how will you celebrate your garden?
Friday 21st April was uniquely special for Charles and myself. Two very exciting events happened quite by chance on the same day: our book arrived at the publishers and Charles was featured on BBC Gardeners’ World. Life has been so busy since that it has taken a week to be able to find the time write this post 🙂
Our publishers, Permanent Press, released gorgeous photos on social media of our book. It was quite a challenge focusing on other tasks over the weekend, with the anticipation of delivery on Monday, wondering what it would look like ‘in real life’ and looking forward to holding a copy.
Meanwhile, Gardeners’ World were busy promoting the evening’s programme on Twitter, with the help of Monty’s dog Nigel. We were delighted to read the BBC describing Charles as “legendary”!
Neither Charles not myself own a tv, so we had arranged to visit a friend to watch the programme. Charles’ part was filmed at Homeacres on 10th August 2016; we were looking forward to seeing how they had edited a whole day’s filming into around 6 minutes.
We thought it was great – loved Monty’s introduction, calling Charles a “guru” (!!) and afterwards, explaining that he has been convinced by Charles’ work. The programme included footage of Charles with Geoff Hamilton back in the 1980s, when a whole episode of Gardeners’ World was filmed from his then garden, an 8 acre organic no dig market garden. Fun to see Charles as a young man, too! You can see the programme on You Tube here.
The feedback has been fantastic: lots of discussion and a massive increase in people wanting to find out more about no dig. I had the briefest appearance on the programme too, captured here in a screenshot by my daughter. There’s been a lot of interest in this little bed, people wondering whether it was made just for the programme and then removed. I’m happy to say that it cropped until mid-winter and recently we planted potatoes in it. Charles and Ed made a video about creating and planting the bed here.
We were thrilled when the courier arrived on Monday afternoon and we could finally see the result of all of the work done by ourselves, the editors, proofreader, designer, indexer, etc. The book was much bigger than we’d anticipated (it is so full of information, photos, ideas…) and looks lovely.
There were a lot of boxes, we were so glad it was a dry day!
After carrying all of these boxes into the conservatory for storage with the help of Finn, Charles’ helper who took these photos, it was time to start signing copies for all of the pre-orders and package them, ready for the post office the following morning. The envelopes Charles had bought were a fraction too small which created a bit of a problem initially, solved when we worked out a way if making larger envelopes using the existing ones and packing tape. (Larger envelopes have arrived now!)
By 6 pm, our hands were getting tired and the champagne was calling us – also, we hadn’t properly looked through the book yet! So we drank champagne and have a first real look at our new book. We love it 🙂
No Dig Organic Home and Garden has received some really wonderful feedback, I’ve hardly stopped smiling all week thanks to the many kind, enthusiastic responses to our book. It was a best seller on a certain online store one day after being published and today is also #2 in Organic Gardening (#1 is Charles’ Diary) Copies has gone to the distributor in America, we have been sending them worldwide too. We are so delighted with the sales, it is fantastic.
The best way to support authors is to buy direct so if you would like a copy, please consider buying from Charles’ website here. We can sign it for you, too! Alternatively, the book can be bought from the publishers. Both ways support everyone who has worked to produce the book. (Some online retailers have policies which means that they get most of the proceeds.)
A photo blog post
We spent the weekend at West Dean college near Chichester on 4th and 5th February, where Charles was giving two day courses. The estate was owned by the remarkable Edward James, who donated the land, house and an extensive collection of art to create a college.
Although it is not the best time of year to visit the gardens they are still wonderful – so many flowers emerging outside in early February.
Violas in one of the glasshouses.
Some of the new sowings for the glasshouses and vegetable gardens.
I have serious glasshouse envy!
The impressive walled kitchen garden was remarkably empty, just leeks this year. Usually there are brassicas too.
For the first time in 10 years I went on a holiday during the summer. Here is a short blog post with some photos from the trip. It was lovely to go away but oh my goodness, I came back to a lot of things to do – weeding, side shooting, picking, dead heading… (read about this here.) It was worth it though!
My daughter and I were visiting my dad who has lived near Chiang Mai for 3 years. It felt very strange leaving my garden and allotment during such a peak growing time. Fortunately one of my sons was in charge of watering pots, the greenhouse and polytunnel so I knew everything should still be alive when I got back (it was!) and Charles kindly weeded the allotment and raised beds in my front garden.
We flew to Bangkok where we caught another plane a couple of hours later to Chaing Mai.
Dad lives in a village near to Doi Saket in Northern Thailand. It is very peaceful here, a lovely place to relax. We were especially excited about the swimming pool which was completed shortly before we arrived. It used a mineral filtration system, no smelly chemicals. It is a complete contrast with life at home. I’d brought some writing work with me – it was amazing working here on the veranda looking at these views and going for a swim whenever I felt too hot. I have visited Thailand in January and October, when it is hot but nothing like I experienced this time!
Here dad has created Of Rice and Zen, a boutique resort with two individual villas for rent – one has been there for a few years and a newer one built using timber and tiles from an old rice barn. All of the scaffolding is made from bamboo.
The tiles are 100 years old. I thought they look beautiful.
The gardens here are gorgeous, there are so many possibilities growing in the tropics. The edible plants in dad’s garden include coconuts, mangosteens, mangoes and pandanus, a grass-like vanilla flavoured herb used in cooking both sweet and savory dishes. I’ve tried to grow it in the UK several times but without much success. Between the garden and the rice field, the khlong is used to channel water and irrigate the pond and rice field. Here one can forage for wild plants including edible morning glory and bitter gourds. The villagers also collect frogs and fish.
July is the start of the rainy season in Thailand. It was very hot and humid (especially for a person used to English summers) with incredible thunderstorms. One morning the khlong had overflowed, flooding part of the garden. It looked very dramatic, but soon drained away.
Organic growing is becoming increasingly popular in Thailand. This wall painting is in a large shopping centre:
One of the many markets inspired by sustainability, healthy eating and organic growing.
I enjoyed exploring the many stalls.
Here I bought some Thai organic potions to experiment with – an Egg Hormone for fruit (think I will try some on the aubergines) and Soybean Hormone. ‘Hormone’ is an unusual term for plant feeds, I wonder if it is one of those words that translated unusually from Thai to English.
I love tropical fruits and Thai cooking and came back full of ideas of how I can adapt home grown vegetables and fruit to create meals influenced by the colours and flavours of Thai cuisine.
On June 17th, Charles and I Travelled to Ireland to visit Ballymaloe, home of Darina and Tim Allen and the famous cookery school, where Charles was giving a one day workshop the following day. We’d met Darina when she came to Bruton with her brother Rory O’Connell to give a talk at Roths Bar and Grill (fascinating talk, delicious food, my friend Christine and I polished off quite a lot of Roth’s lovely organic red wine, it was a good evening.) Darina and Rory visited Charles’ no dig garden at Homeacres the next day.
Ballymaloe cookery school, situated on a 100 acre organic farm, was started by Darina and Rory in 1983. The 12 week intensive courses look fantastic – they offer many shorter courses too (wish I lived closer as I’d love to do some.) Darina’s belief that chefs should work in and understand kitchen gardens as part of their training is reflected in the extensive organic farm including livestock, vegetable gardens, fruit, wildlife gardens, foraging areas. We stayed in their beautiful home and enjoyed fresh delicious food including gorgeous yellow raw butter made from the milk from their Jersey cows.
The organic kitchen gardens are impressive, full of different vegetables, fruit and herbs which are used by the family, students at the cookery school and in the restaurant.
I had a great time exploring the gardens with Tim Allen and Charles on the Friday evening and by myself on the Saturday. It is an incredible resource for the students, who are able to gain an understanding of how to grow food, how long it takes to reach maturity, the problems that can occur due to weather or pests and, crucially, what actually is in season.
Built by Tim’s father Ivan Allen as a growing space for mushrooms and tomatoes (eventually they become uneconomic to produce), the glasshouse is very impressive.
The glasshouse has been transformed into an extraordinary polyculture of annual and perennial food crops which makes full use of the incredible one acre of glass covered growing space. The huge glass structure creates a microclimate which extends the season considerably. There are ripe apricots and peaches in June!
Around the edges are established fruit and nut trees including pomegranate, almond, fig, apricot, plum, nectarine and peaches. Extensive grape vines are full of swelling grapes (at the same time, my grape vine in the polytunnel is just in flower.)
The rafters provide an ideal drying space for onions.
This sweet corn will be ready to harvest months before my outdoor grown corn.
The glasshouse has a series of large beds, many of which are covered with weed suppressing membrane to save time – it may also have some moisture saving properties, like the compost mulch I use in my garden. They use a small tractor with a kind of rotavating attachment (I lack the necessary technical vocabulary for such equipment, having never used a rotovator or a tractor!) as part of the bed preparation, but are also exploring ways of introducing more no dig methods into the garden. The glasshouse was full of wildlife – bees, butterflies, foraging birds (some were feeding their young on the rafters!)
The glasshouse is also used for propagating:
The outbuildings at Ballymaloe are beautiful. Here I looked through a window of an old potting shed.
Homegrown produce is offered for sale at the shop and also at a local farmer’s market.
Whilst Charles was teaching, I spent some time working on my iPad in the restaurant – this was my view.
The gardens are very beautiful.
Here are some of the self catering cottages for students on the 12 week courses – so pretty!
Inside the shop and restaurant area – I loved the little decorated alcoves, especially the ‘shrine’ to kale!
The lovely shell house folly, created by Blot Kerr-Wilson in 1995, includes some of Darina’s personal shell collection. I tried to capture the intricacy and beauty with my phone camera, not easy! It is gorgeous.
After the day course, I drove us to Kilruddery House near Dublin, a journey of about three hours, where Charles was giving a talk the next day. We had visited here last year, it’s a great place – the have extensive ornamental gardens, a large no dig kitchen garden and organic farms. Fionnuala and Anthony Ardee actively produce and promote good quality organic food. Charles and I enjoyed more amazing, fresh, home produced seasonal cooking. In addition to the walled kitchen gardens they keep livestock including chickens, pigs and sheep. A huge polytunnel is being constructed as part of the preparations for their Totally Terrific Tomato Festival in September, which will prove invaluable for extending the growing season for produce for their farmer’s market and the Kilruddery cafe.
I enjoy having the opportunity of visiting urban community gardens, especially as we live in a very small town surrounded by countryside. There are two allotment sites here and a community orchard (planted by Charles, myself and some friends) but not much that combines community and growing. Most people in Bruton have some sort of garden, there are a lot of local growers and farms, so I think there is less need in the countryside.