Friday, 24 July 2015

A few happy moments

Sometimes, the world isn't right.  Sometimes I would go so far as to say that it goes so horribly wrong that you wonder how it can ever get back to normal.

This, sadly is the case in point for me at present.  Two months ago something happened, the world tilted on it's axis, Fate shouted "Ha! Just you watch this then", and took us on a roller coaster with ultimately very sad consequences.  We will of course be fine in time, but just now it doesn't feel like it.

So, it is wonderful that today The Garden in Rainy Valley has shared the start of something new and exciting and hopeful by being the place a friend of our daughter stayed last night to go off this morning to get married.

We have had a lovely few hours and can't wait to go to the "big" wedding tea party tomorrow afternoon.

It's too early as yet to share pictures of the bride (not my pictures to share) but here are some lovely Rainy Valley Wedding frippery shots.  Happy days x

Sunday, 9 February 2014

News from Rainy Valley

It has been so long since my last post that you would be forgiven for thinking that i have given it all up.  In truth I thought I had for a while as other demands have crowded life and blogging was just one thing too much.
But as always happens, things have calmed down and I'm back in the swing.
The Garden in Rainy Valley is sleeping (though not as deeply as it should because of this warm wet winter we're experiencing), so apart from the fact that the bulbs are coming up and the the snowdrops we transplanted to make way for the veggie patch are a sea  of white across the lawn, there's nothing to report, so instead I thought I would share some pictures of Rainy Valley and hereabouts hit by the current incredible weather:

Christmas day was a quiet one - just the two of us, having a picnic in the Brecon Beacons - in the snow.  It was peaceful and pristine on the top of the world - just our footprints and rabbit tracks!

There have been beautiful misty early mornings:

Powerful stormy sunsets:

and water water everywhere:

The weather conditions have been overpowering at times and devastating for many people, but you can't help but be amazed by the sheer power of the natural world, huge tides, sheets of rain, 70 mile per hour winds, and then just as it's soaked you to the skin, (again) blown you off your feet, and taken your breath away, you turn round and it does this...........

What's not to like?

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Late Summer Images

The Garden in Rainy Valley is speeding towards Autumn now.  The air is full of  mist and woodsmoke and the trees are definitely beginning to change colour.
 We have begun to cut down the wild flower patch - its hard work, we managed about a third of it today, finding that we don't really have the ideal tools to get to grips with it despite having a scythe, a slasher and a pair of reasonable shears.

There's still some lovely colour around though:

Sunday, 8 September 2013

a Botanic Learning Experience?

I love idea of botanic gardens and am unavoidably drawn to them. This may be down to much of my childhood being spent at Kew picnicking with my parents, or it may be that the geek in me desperately wants my interest in gardens and all things botanical to blossom into something oh so much more intellectual and academic, whatever the root cause, the outcome is that I can rarely pass a botanic garden by.

So I was happy to go off to revisit the National Botanic Garden of Wales (NBG) earlier this summer, as I hadn’t been there for a number of years and was keen to explore.

In their paper Environmental awareness, interests and motives of botanic gardens visitors: Implications for interpretive practice1, Roy Ballantyne, Jan Packer and Karen Hughes describe the purposes of botanic gardens as conservation and education, but also acknowledge the huge role they play in tourism. I wasn’t aware until I started reading around the subject that “visiting gardens” is the 4th most popular reason for tourists to visit the UK!

The implication is that botanic gardens are as much a tourist attraction as an educational resource, and NBG certainly felt as if tourism was top of it’s list of purposes during my visit.

It's an undeniably beautiful place with a stunning setting deep in the Carmarthanshire countryside. Carefully thought out with lovingly restored old stone buildings, incredible views and surprises around every corner NBG delivers pleasure in well, spade loads. As you enter the garden through the gate house you are immediately swept into a sea of options – what to do, where to go, what to see. I think you have to see the garden as a range of different rooms one after the other – it doesn't really quite run together as a whole, and I don't think that matters as such and its a lovely wander as you take in giant wicker sculptures, a pool full of shimmering metal fish, restored walled gardens, pebble lined rills designed to echo the nearby river Tywi, swathes of wildflowers, dry gardens, wet gardens, Japanese inspired gardens, lakes and behind all that, wonderful rolling meadows
where you could play all day. There are all sorts of side exhibitions that would fascinate and inform children, particularly the very young such as the bee garden where you can watch honey bees at work, and the fungi exhibition in the Great Glasshouse, a huge “of the hill, not on the hill” Frank Lloyd Wright inspired glass structure that gives a space age feel to the garden.

So for a day out, lovely, especially on a warm bright sunny day, and for youngsters, yes it's educational, no doubt about it.

However, for people like me, who know a little and want to learn more, what does NBG deliver beyond the “lovely day out”? My answer really is not enough. I came home with planting ideas and lists of plants to investigate, and wonderful images, but throughout the garden I felt short changed on information. There just wasn't enough for me to get my teeth into. Their wild flower display was wonderful and filled me with awe when compared to my grassy awful year one attempt here at home, but did they tell me what they had done to get to that point? How long it had taken? Even what the individual plants were? No!

The Great Glasshouse showcases micro climates from round the world showing plant diversity in threatened habitats. When this exhibition was originally set up it was fascinating, but over the years the facts around such rare threatened climates have become more widely understood, and I would now enjoy more focus on our own threatened landscapes and eco-systems, the importance of native species, an exhibit about sustainability and food production in the UK, and more, far more on the history of gardens and gardening and the native flora and fauna of Wales.

I acknowledge that lots more goes on beyond the day to day opening of the garden, but most visitors will never be able to get there to experience the range of specialist classes and courses on offer – they need to access what they can on their occasional visits.

This slight feeling of being unfulfilled by the visit is exacerbated by the garden centre that doubles as an exit. It appears (forgive me NBG if I am wrong) to be just a commercial garden centre. It doesn't sell plants from the garden and the proceeds of anything you spend in there doesn't seem to go to NBG.....what a missed opportunity!

Will I go back – of course, often. Should you go? absolutely. But it's more a day out than a learning experience.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Sleepy Bees

The last few weeks have been full of family events and business that has stopped me blogging.  During this time we have had scorching weather for a couple of weeks and now good old UK summer weather.  Hot muggy, very high humidity and then torrential rain, thunder and lightening and gales.  This mad weather has of course taken its toll on the garden, which is now very overgrown, green and ......flat.  There is a lot to be done to try to resurrect the garden for late summer.
The vegetables have done well, we have had kilos of peas and haricot vert  and salad leaves, the runners are coming and the sunflowers are six foot high.  H found copious quantities of Deer droppings in one corner of the garden this morning, surprisingly not where we see them coming in normally, so we will have to see whether the garden and the Deer can live in harmony, we're not keen on the idea of stopping them coming through the garden unless we really have to.
We have a large swathe of Goldenrod (Solidago sp, Asteraceae) growing on our roadside verge and we have noticed how much the bees love it.  Looking at it this evening it was smothered by very slow moving sleepy Bumbles - is it the weather, the end of the season or does the golden rod pollen make then dopey?  Ideas in the comments section please - would love to know what you think!

Friday, 12 July 2013

Garden Progress Report

Summer is here.  It's official. We have had temperatures touching 30 degrees all week, and the garden and I are loving it.  The vegetable patch is growing so fast that I think if you sit for a day and just watch it you could honestly almost see it grow; sunflowers are heading skywards and have grown centimetres in just a few days, pea pods are appearing in their 10's daily, and the beans would grace a nursery rhyme no trouble at all.  We planted Asparagus Peas, Lotus tetragobolonus and they have germinated and are developing into nice stocky little plants which should provide an interesting stir fry ingredient - a mange tout type pea pod with a ridged appearance and asparagus like flavour.  I had some cucumber plants thrust on me "because otherwise they were going on the compost heap" a few weeks ago, and although I didn't think I really had space for them nor any great urge to grow cucumbers I did plant them and they are doing very well.  Apparently you can grow them up canes rather than trailing along the ground tying them in hard as they grow, so I am trying this and so far so good.  The same kind person also gave me tomato plants which are thriving in with the herbs. The aubergines and peppers  are also doing really well, but are still tiny plants which will need to be kept inside over the winter to have any chance of them producing next year.

The rest of the garden is taking on that overblown muddled mid summer feel that gives you permission to give up on the weeding on the basis that you will spoil everything else while trying to get to the weeds.  The Crocosmia and day lilies are about to flower too.
 We decided to leave the wildflower patch alone in all its awfulness to give it a chance to establish for next year, and we have removed the top of the protectors from the fruit trees letting the leaves and branches relax more.  I will post an update about the trees in the next few days, but so far so good.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Visiting Veddw

We visited Veddw at the weekend, the Monmouthshire garden created by Anne Wareham and her photographer husband Charles Hawes.

I have to say that I didn’t want to visit almost as much as I did. I first read about Veddw a year or so ago and was intrigued but I was put off visiting as I read a comment rightly or wrongly attributed that said that Ms Wareham has a very jaded view of people who visit her garden so I thought well, I’m not visiting if you don’t want me there! So I didn't go.
However, Veddw is only 5 miles from home, others have described it to me as inspirational and after reading more about it in the book Discovering Welsh Gardens I decided that Sunday was the day to be inspired.
I am always worried when I decide to visit an open garden, fearing that I am going to find a grand stately pile being shown off with well meaning but unaware visitors who would dismiss out of hand my worries around accessibility and inclusivity if I tried to raise them. For this reason I avoid NGS gardens even although I sometimes would like to look. it just makes me feel too uncomfortable.

So it was with some trepidation that I approached my visit to the Veddw. The first thing we saw was a sign on the gate telling us not to bother if we had a problem with weeds. H visibly brightened stating "ha! oddball - good!" and marched purposefully through the gate. No deterrent there then. Once in the garden I was hugely reassured by the house - it's just a house and in respect of the garden and the garden visitors its of absolutely no account, not a stately pile, not on show, quite the opposite, a cottage typical of the area, like our own house and private - you're here to see the garden. Just the garden. I like that a lot. I equally like the transparency and honesty of the contract between visitor and owner, the garden is opened to pay for its up keep, come, pay, look, then go away; no tweeness which is very refreshing indeed. The next positive is the freedom; you've come, so look around, explore. When we paid Anne our entrance fee I asked if there was anywhere we shouldn’t go and she seemed puzzled and amused by my question – seeming to ask why would there be anywhere that’s off limits? It is certainly a garden made for exploring, for hiding and dreaming in, full of quiet corners, secret pathways and small rooms each with its own atmosphere and character, a small child’s ideal magic garden full of adventures and dens and places to play imaginary games.
The handout given to visitors states that visitors who understand the Veddw are welcome. Do I understand? Only the owners can say whether my perceptions and thoughts match their own, so its impossible to judge my level of actual understanding - but I know what I think which is what I will share here.
At the Garden in Rainy Valley we are trying to do several things in a very minor way - support wildlife, make the garden be at one with its environment, and take the garden back to a point where it acknowledges its own history. I think that Veddw works towards at least two of these aims overtly and one by natural consequence if not by wholehearted intention.

Veddw must support wildlife, the garden was alive with bees when we visited, but I'm not clear whether or not it's meant to particularly, I don't think it's why it's there, if that makes any sense.
Veddw sucks its environment in and throws it back out again. huge sweeping beech hedges echo the hills, small box hedge parterre are a parody of the fields. history is acknowledged in the parterres, the artful reconstruction of a ruined cottage complete with excavated "artefacts" displayed “Wittgenstein's grave" style in a heap atop a stone wall, and in the veggie patch that is no longer (a veggie patch).
The garden is built in a bowl and wherever you stand the unapologetic structures within the garden have the mirror image of the local environment as a backdrop. the effect is really quite breath taking, and walking into Veddw across a ridge above the garden you do exactly what I think the designer intended, you stand and stare as the garden rolls out below you, a patch work of ideas and symbolism that forces you to think. Is it a wild garden? An adaptation of a formal classical design, in parts Greek or Roman or is it simply a mad incredible wonderful imaginary place bought to life?

There are things that I don’t like, but as with anything visual its so personal that others will love them so they hardly merit comment except possibly the formal pool with its black dyed water to create a sharp mirror image - clever idea, but I find the opaque black water sinister. Not for me. 
Even on a short visit it becomes apparent that this is a garden that will support multiple visits as you just don’t see everything at once and the approach to the planting – big, mad, wild swathes of single variety seasonal rumbustiousness means that nothing will ever be the same twice. This isn’t a garden tamed into a manicured chocolate box image that will be pin perfect and the same year after year - its alive in a way so many large formal gardens are not.
So, do I understand? - I haven't a clue. Do I appreciate the visual impact of what I found - absolutely, and I'm glad I've had the opportunity to look. So I'm sorry Anne, I know I committed the sin of telling you your garden was beautiful, but it is, and you're just going to have to live with it! 
 Anne Wareham blogs about Veddw at and