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.
Last weekend I gave two talks at the South West Permaculture Convergence, the first on No Dig Gardening and the second about making potions for the garden and home using plants we can grow and forage for in the UK.
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.
Ballymaloe small kitchen garden
Female scarecrow in the small kitchen garden
Male scarecrow in the small kitchen garden
Paths mulched with their own straw
Blueberry fruit cage
Soft fruit bushes, soon to be netted against birds
The gardens have many different varieties of apple tree
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!
Ripe apricots in June
Peaches ripening in the glasshouse – they look mouthwateringly delicious
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.)
Grape varieties grown in the glasshouse
The rafters provide an ideal drying space for onions.
This sweet corn will be ready to harvest months before my outdoor grown corn.
The cobs are huge for the time of year
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 large beds are rotavated using a small tractor
Climbing French beans
‘Hilda’ beans, so sweet and crisp they are delicious raw
Companion planting of edible flowers
Weed suppressing membrane helps reduce the workload
Peas have been growing and cropping for some time
Kiwi and morning glory twisting up a pillar
The small tractor
Herbs and cornflowers
So many aubergines
A view across the glasshouse
The glasshouse is also used for propagating:
Emerging seedlings in module trays
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.
Solar panels and raised veg beds
It was a great place to work
Flock of birds
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.
View towards the folly
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.
A garden view
Charles giving his talk
Outside the venue
Lupins and roses
Wild growth on one of the shed roofs
New plantings in the walled garden
Perennial kale, mint, horseradish and comfrey under an apple tree
On April 4th, Charles, Felix (a German university student who is working at Homeacres with Charles for four months) and I travelled to Axminster, Devon for the River Cottage ‘Meet the Experts’ Day, where Charles and I were two of the experts giving talks.