Thursday, 28 January 2016

Cowbridge Physic Garden

Having moved to a house with a smaller garden this summer I have been thinking long and hard about what to grow in this new space. I brought some plants and pre-made raised beds with me so these immediately went in, as much to brighten the place up as anything else. Thinking longer term I wanted to do something with the front garden that would require very little maintenance, make a big impact and of course taste great.  The solution I came to was to start a herb garden. Something that I can use everyday and after the initial set up not spend too much time on.

I already grow a few herbs for everyday use in an old trough outside the backdoor. These are added to many of our meals so never get the chance to grow too any sort of size or run to seed as they are constantly being harvested. Even so this little offering has kept me in good supply throughout the past couple of months, the only thing it's not providing is variety.

With hundreds of species and variants available I was never going to be satisfied with just eight different plants. For inspiration a couple of weeks ago I took a trip to Cowbridge physic garden to explore the possibilities on offer.

Just off Cowbridge high street hidden behind four large stone walls is this real gem of a place. Restored and maintained by volunteers after falling into neglect, it boasts a huge variety of medicinal plants and herbs that once would have been commonplace.

Despite visiting in winter there was still plenty to see, some plants were past their best and others still in full glory.

There aren't many physic gardens left in the country these days having fallen out of favour with the development of modern medicine. In the past people would have used these plants for treating all manner of things, To name a few lemon balm was traditionally used to ease anxiety and insomnia, rosemary to improve concentration and memory, lavender as an antiseptic, parsley was used to prevent flatulence and bad breath, and lovage to cure colic.

Some great ideas and well worth a visit, I'll certainly be back again in the summer.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

National Trust Dyffryn gardens

Having driven past a couple of weeks ago and with not much on the agenda last weekend we decided to go and take a look around Dyffryn gardens in St Nicholas not far from where we live. Dyffryn gardens cover 55 acres that include vast lawns, garden rooms that have been inspired by places all over the world and of course a kitchen garden.

We spent the morning wandering through the shade of the arboretum on what was an unusually sunny autumn day. Emerging from the trees we were greeted by huge lawns of various shapes and sizes designed in Edwardian times no doubt for different purposes.

Despite it being November there was still a huge amount to see in the gardens not just for enthusiasts but for anyone with a passing interest in being outdoors. The garden rooms, each very different in design,  provide snapshots of what's possible in smaller spaces whilst still maintaining the overall grandeur that goes with such bold ideas.

The colours and structure around gardens of this scale at this time of year is unrivaled, with some things having been cut back and others left to provide height and prominence to an arrangement.

Of course of particular interest to me was the kitchen garden. Divided into two walled gardens, one for fruit and the other larger one for vegetables there was still an abundance of food to be harvested. Amongst other things the globe artichokes really stood out, I've already decided I'll be digging up the front garden next year and one of the first plants to go in will certainly be a few of these. With a wait of up to two years for the first harvest it may not be for everyone but the chance of eating my own home grown artichokes is something that I am prepared to wait for.

Inside a long glasshouse along the side of the building grapevines that were rooted outside through holes in the brickwork were carefully trained across the roof. Further through the glasshouse were other less hardy plants some of which has been brought in for winter and some permanent residents that prefer a warmer climate.

As with most vegetable gardens the majority of the growing has now been done for this year. Ready to be picked through the winter were Kale, sprouting broccoli, leeks as well as some great winter salads. All of this produce can be sampled in some fantastic homemade recipes in the onsite cafe.

The best thing for us was that despite the gardens and house giving a formal appearance the whole place is quite relaxed. The gardening staff  that were pottering around were perfectly happy to let children run wild on the lawns or dip their hands into the ponds.Outside of the front of the property there is a children's play area next to n patio where the parents can eat. A thoroughly enjoyable day out and somewhere we will certainly be visiting again.

Monday, 26 October 2015


This year, having been given some seeds for Christmas, I thought I'd have a go at growing chillies. I had attempted them before in the polytunnel last year but anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that the tunnel blew away before they came to anything. This time around having less growing space I have kept them inside on a relatively sunny windowsill.

I started them off in individual pots back in late February, sowing three or four of each. Somewhere along the line the labels got mixed up which isn't unusual for me so when I potted them all into one long pot for the windowsill I chose the six strongest plants to grow on. It turns out I ended up with one cayenne, three raam, and two sweet sunshine.

The raam did turn out to be quite hot which is no bad thing for me so having three of these was a real result. I started harvesting these early September and am still harvesting them now, fantastically productive, they will definitely make the cut next year.

The sweet sunshine was slow to get going and made me doubt whether it was ever going to get any bigger. It did in the end and I have been harvesting these for the past couple of weeks. Being the slowest to grow and the smallest crop, while they have been enjoyable I think they'll be replaced with something more substantial next year.

The cayenne have fallen somewhere in between the two above in heat, growth speed and overall harvest. However these have proved to be excellent for drying and will prolong my harvest for many months to come. Surely I'll have room for a couple of these come next spring.

At one point we were facing a real glut and running out of ideas of what to do with them. Of course the only answer was homemade curry paste. Put in the blender with lemongrass, onion, garlic, ginger and some tomatoes they made an nice, coarse paste. Using different quantities and combinations of  the chillies we ended up with a mild and a hot paste that should keep for a good couple of months.

All in all definitely something I'll be experimenting more with. I'd encourage anyone to grow them, taking up minimal space and giving maximum reward they've been a real success.