‘A Garden above the Estuary’ – a Talk by Adam Alexander; Pottiputki; Updated Website

The 2023 year of talks opened with this fascinating and entertaining talk on the creation of Adam’s current garden which combined practical tips with stories of adventures tracking down vegetable seed and its links with food identity and culture, and the history of many vegetable seeds and their names. Adam’s particular interest is the conservation of the genetic diversity of edible crops.

As background, Adam told us that he has grown something every year for the table from a very young age. Despite having trained as a film-maker, Adam became a market gardener in the mid-late seventies; then that was what Adam describes as a “mug’s game”, as there was little interest in unusual vegetables such as purple-podded peas or yellow courgettes, and he returned to the film industry. That was a job that enabled him to travel widely and led directly to Adam’s interest in acquiring and protecting vegetable seeds with a history and cultural connection.

That is where this story begins – in Donetsk in 1988, where Adam had travelled as producer of a film about a Welsh industrialist who founded the steel industry in Ukraine. In the hotels of the time vegetables were not in great supply on the menu, and Adam ventured to the local market with an interpreter. There he encountered an old lady selling the surplus of vegetables she had grown, from seed she had saved herself, from seed saved previously by her mother and her grandmother. Adam bought some peppers and took them back to the hotel kitchen and was blown away by the sweetness, fruitiness and hint of heat. During his stay Adam returned to the market several times to buy more peppers (which are a very important part of the culture in parts of the former Soviet Union and eastern and central Europe, and central to the food identity of the peoples there). The taste of the pepper was unique and he wondered about saving seed to take home to propagate for conservation purposes; seed was duly dried on the window sill of the hotel and has successfully been propagated and conserved, so that it can now be distributed to displaced Ukrainians to reconnect them with their home.

Fast forward to 2013. By now, Adam was growing over 500 varieties of vegetable for the various seed libraries and gene banks. He grows at least 70 varieties each year to renew each of the seeds that he has. This takes a lot of space, which Adam found in different gardens, but he really needed to have everything in one place. So in 2013 he moved from the Forest of Dean to Monmouthshire, to a property outside Chepstow 170m above the Severn Estuary.

With the property came a field to transform into his garden; it was effectively an unrestored wild flower meadow, in which the previous owners had kept chicken and had a lot of bonfires (as the opening slide of the presentation illustrates).

In the spring of 2014, having covered parts of the ground with anything he could find (polythene, corrugated iron sheets etc.) for weed suppression, he planted potatoes (excellent for cleaning the ground) through black plastic. Then some raised beds were built in terraces to maximise the light in an East-West orientation. Adam had always used cedar for his raised beds, as it was readily available from plantations in the Forest of Dean. If you turn the cedar boards in your raised beds around every couple of years, they can last for up to 20 years.

Within 2 or 3 months, Adam had created the framework and the shape for the garden that he needed. There were 14 raised beds, each one-metre wide, which means you never have to walk on them. You can extend the season by using clear polythene film with metal hoops. As the beds are all the same length, these cloches can be re-used, and typically last five years. He also uses and re-uses fleece in the same way for warmth and to keep pests out.

While some digging was required to create the framework of the garden, the basic philosophy is to keep digging to a minimum and use black mulch (polythene or membrane) to grow through; it warms the soil and gives off heat at night creating a micro-climate for the plants. The aim is also to recycle and re-use materials as much as possible.

The contents of a 40-foot duck pond provided the base, spread on the ground and covered with black polythene, for two 30-foot polytunnels, the first of which was erected in October 2014. The polytunnels had been with Adam since 1976 and have moved with him to all of his different gardens ever since. In his raised beds within them, now in March, he has peas and broad beans in flower, fennel for eating, herbs, salad crops right through the winter and cauliflowers beginning to heart up. A trickle irrigation system is essential – he is lucky to have his own spring water (with a pH of 6.9) for this, one of the original attractions of this site.

One of the crops that Adam plants in his polytunnels is garlic – but not any old garlic! One of his filming assignments took him to Oman, home to damask roses and famed for its rose water. In Oman terraces tumble 100 metres down into ravines with the most amazing irrigation system. Adam saw garlic being cultivated, and got into conversation with the owner of the hotel where he was staying. It turned out that the plantation of garlic that Adam had seen belonged to the hotel owner; this was in April, and Adam asked him to send some garlic when it was ready, not really expecting that this would be possible. In June, having been away, Adam walked into his house to find a strong smell and a large plastic sweet jar covered in stamps and with the appropriate immigration certificate. In South Wales, Adam plants this garlic in a polytunnel in October through black polythene. The mountains of Oman in the winter experience a dry cold. This is replicated in the polytunnel where, even if the air temperature drops, the soil temperature is maintained. The garlic in the polytunnel can be harvested in the green in May, and then after that for storing in June/July. It is a hardneck variety, and doesn’t keep terribly well beyond October.

Adam also wanted polytunnels for broad beans; he grows three crops in a year in sequence, from autumn through to April, so that they do not cross-pollinate. A delicious broad bean is ‘Bowland Beauty’, which was originally bred for exhibition.

It has to be said that timing is key in terms of getting crops into the ground. Since 1976 Adam has kept a diary of what he sows when, the temperature, conditions etc. This is giving very direct information about climate change. Saving seed helps to build in local adaptations, which means that plants from very different environments from our own will in time thrive here. Carrot ‘Red Elephant’ from Australia is a good case in point. Adam has grown it outside in beds for a number of years. He discovered by chance, from seed spilt in the bed while collecting, that it can grow with absolute neglect when sown in October outside for early harvesting – there is no need for special forcing varieties.

None of Adam’s growing would be possible without compost. He uses all sorts of old materials to make the compost bins, including pallets and old carpet (this has to be pure wool). A lot of grass is used in the compost, which has the benefit of generating heat, but it does have to be turned regularly (once a week).

The last thing that Adam installed on his new site was a greenhouse, which he uses for tomatoes, capsicum, cucumbers, lemongrass, okra, ginger etc. A propagator is also key for starting seed off in early spring. There is only one cucumber which he now grows, for its taste, which comes from Syria. He encountered it in Aleppo, in what was known as the ‘fertile crescent’, and he now grows out a number of vegetables from the seed bank there for seed. The cucumber is unusual in that it has both male and female flowers. Seed is now being distributed to displaced Syrians, including those in camps in Jordan; later this year they will be sent to camps in Kurdistan.

Polytunnels or greenhouses allow you to create controlled environments for the production of seed; you can water when necessary during the growing period, and keep the crops dry when seed is setting.

One of the things that Adam has discovered on his travels is that growers like to mix things up together, and that plants don’t mind being crowded; polytunnels or a greenhouse allow him to do both of these things. Sweetcorn is an example: he has had good success growing 9 or 10 plants in a small block a foot apart, producing very good crops. Sweetcorn is a wind-pollinated crop, and growing them in a polytunnel gives good control (rather than the wind blowing the pollen far and wide, tapping the plants means the pollen falls where it needs to).

Moving on to the seed that Adam grows, here is a whirlwind tour through just a few of them:

  • Fava bean ‘Syrian Small’ – first seen in Damascus, being wheeled through the streets in barrows piled high. They are traditionally eaten whole when young, but can also be eaten shelled. The seed is now primarily being distributed to displaced Syrians.
  • Radish ‘Pasque’, is a French radish, which is lifted in the autumn, stored in clamps, and then eaten at Easter. It is an interesting plant in that the flowers start white, but then turn pink once they have been pollinated.
  • Fava Mourda Reina Mouz (‘Purple Queen’) is a purple broad bean from Catalonia (another very interesting area for endangered vegetable varieties), which Adam is growing out to make safe for the future.
  • Blue potatoes from Atacama in Chile – they have a shape like Pink Fir Apple, but are deep blue right through; they are now being included in an official breeding programme to establish their blight-resistance.
  • Pea ‘Champion of England’ is the only pea still in cultivation of the 13 listed as having any merit out of the 200 catalogued by the RHS at the end of the nineteenth century. Although held in seed libraries, it returned to commercial seed catalogues in 2016, originating in the US. Adam still held some seed from 2009, so that seed is now being grown for comparison to see whether the newly-listed variety is the true original variety.
  • Pea ‘Daniel O’Rourke’ was one of the most successful varieties of pea in the United States until the 1920s. Its name derives from the 1852 Derby winner, when it was introduced to the UK the following year, as a marketing strategy to encourage growers in the UK to buy it.
  • Pea ‘Fesol Negre del Belgarda’ is a purple-flowered, black pea from Catalonia grown for drying and storing.
  • Pea ‘Panther’ is a pea that the Heritage Seed Library was told grew to about two foot in height – but in fact grows to three times that!
  • Pea ‘Jaune de Madras’ is one of the peas used by Mendel in his work on genetics. It is a mange-tout pea, its name implies it had originated in India. However, it was being introduced to the UK at the time that yellow Madras curry, which was a British invention, was very popular, so the name was purely a marketing strategy. In the US, it was called ‘Golden Sweet’, and it is now sold here as that as well.
  • Blue Hopi Maize hails from very arid regions of Arizona, where three inches of rain falls in a year if they are lucky. There it is sown in very deep holes to reach the damp where it can germinate. It is sown in clumps, and the drooping leaves create shade and a particular micro-climate which enables them to grow in such a harsh climate. There is a particular culture around blue maize within the Hopi nation where it used to make blue polenta, and the ability to grow blue maize is key to winning the heart of the woman a man wants to marry.
  • Tomatoes – Adam grows many different tomatoes from all over the world – including ‘Burmese Sour Tomato’ from Yangon (which is recently in demand thanks to ‘Gardener’s World’), and ‘Bolivian Orange Cherry.’

Adam stressed the importance of using green manures over winter. A very important one is Caliente Mustard – its biofumigant properties attack pathogens such as onion white rot in the soil. He also grows comfrey as a feed for plants, particularly tomatoes.

Autumn in Adam’s garden is all about harvesting. Beetroot is a great crop, as you don’t need many plants to produce masses of seeds (33,000 seeds from a single plant!). Cucumbers are much tricker – the cucumbers have to be almost rotten, and even then there is no guarantee the seed will be viable.

On that note of seed harvesting, Adam’s talk came to a close. Appreciative thanks were expressed for such a wide-ranging, erudite, and engrossing talk, and there was then a rush for the table where different seed varieties were laid out, along with Adam’s book ‘The Seed Detective’.


Pottiputki

At our last meeting Julian introduced us to the Finnish tree-planting tool, the Pottiputki. Although originally designed for forestry planting, Julian has discovered it is invaluable for transplanting snowdrop divisions. He has created this video to show how the tool can be used and to demonstrate the process of dividing snowdrops in the green. Thank you Julian!


Updated Cothi Gardeners Website

The Cothi Gardeners website has recently undergone a bit of an update, and now includes a new section for members to write about their garden as it changes through the year – highlight ‘Members’ Gardens through the Year’ from the main menu at the top of the page. The more members who would like to contribute pieces about their gardens the better! Please contact cothigardeners@gmail.com with your text and photographs (or any queries you may have), and the web editor will do the rest.

Sex, Lies and Putrefaction – a talk by Timothy Walker; October Plant Swap and Sale; December Festive Tea

During the Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020-21, the Zoom talks organised by Fiona Wormald in lieu of our in-person meetings were a beacon of light which helped to lift the gloom of the general isolation. This repeated Zoom talk at our November meeting was shown in our meeting hall so that we could all enjoy for a second time what was a fascinating talk with the added benefit of social interaction, tea and biscuits!

Timothy Walker is a highly respected British botanist who was the Director of The Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Aboretum from 1988 – 2014. He is passionate about plants, particularly regarding conservation and pollination, and is the author of several books on these subjects.

The talk began with with a quote from Charles Darwin in his ‘Origin of Species’ where he identified the relationship between the flower and the bee, and how they were perfectly adapted to each other, describing “pollination biology”. One of the many ways in which this was demonstrated was with the orchid, where a visiting hawk moth was able to reach over 12 inches into the flower in order to obtain the nectar. So, it was pointed out, not only did the moth end up with food, it also helped with pollination by dusting itself with pollen as it left which was then transferred to the next orchid it visited.

Pollen grains are different on each variety of plant, and fertilisation will generally only work when pollen of one variety is transferred from the anthers (male) to the stigma (female) of another plant of the same variety. Moving the pollen from one plant to another occurs via animals, insects, wind and (rarely) water. Even slugs can be pollinators (!), but not often. Plants have different ways of attracting pollinators, such as colour and scent, (though some use both, plus pattern); some, such as a number of trees, produce catkins where the pollen is then blown away to hopefully land on another catkin. The birch tree cleverly has a flap on the flower which protects the catkin and opens on landing, thus preventing random spillage of the seed. There are plants which actually inject pollen into the atmosphere. Grasses are almost always blown on the wind with only very few, such as the Canadian Pondweed, using water as a vehicle. Around 87% of water plant pollination is done by animal life, the majority being bees and wasps.

Night-flowering plants (such as nicotiana and night-scented stock) are hard wired to attract (mostly) moths via scent. Again, a short proboscis is catered for with a short pollen tube (or it could be the other way round!). The same theory applies to butterflies.

Birds obviously help with pollination and they particularly favour red flowers, although they also see UV colours; bats help as well, although they are quite clumsy and throw stuff around a bit.

Pollen is a highly nutritious substance and the whole organisation of fertilisation runs on a reward or bribe system benefitting both parties. The fig is a clever example of pollination where the fig flower is hidden inside what is effectively a brood chamber and a female wasp enters through a hole. She lays eggs; the male wasps hatch first and fertilise the unborn female wasps, create exit tunnels for those female wasps to move on to the next fig, and then die. Thus, if humans eat the fig they also eat the poor dead male wasps – not a reward for them but probably extra protein for the human!

Victoria amazonica is a South American water lily, which attracts a beetle of the Scarabaeidae family; it crawls into the flower, eats so much pollen that it gets drunk & is then too confused to remember its way home, eventually leaving the flower only to stagger on to the next one. Hopefully the wife (or husband) doesn’t possess a rolling pin otherwise there will be trouble!

There are, however, flowers that don’t smell good at all (to humans anyway), such as Dracunculus vulgaris, which smells like rotting meat and Helicadiceros muscivorus (or Dead horse Arum, which is probably a clue). These plants are largely pollinated by flies.

This really interesting Zoom talk by Timothy was just as entertaining the second time around, very well put together and certainly educational.


John and Helen’s October Plant Swap and Sale

John and Helen Brooks held a plant sale at their garden Ty’r Maes on a Sunday afternoon in October to raise funds for the National Garden Scheme charities. It was very well attended, with visitors coming from as far away as North Pembrokeshire.

There was a great variety of plants on sale, provided by members of the Cothi Gardeners, and mostly of course by John and Helen themselves. The plants on offer ranged from trees, such as Paulownia tomentosa (the Foxglove tree) through to a great variety of perennials, including asters, geums, crocosmia, geraniums, hesperantha, persicaria, primula, rudbeckia, salvia, and many others. A great bonus of the afternoon was the enormous quantity of delicious cake provided by volunteers along with teas, and the opportunity to chat with other gardeners.

In total the amount raised for the NGS charities was a fantastic £900! This is a reflection of the tremendous generosity of the plant providers, Cothi Gardeners members and other visitors, and we should never forget the hard work that goes into organising such an event, including the refreshments.


Festive Christmas Tea on 14 December

This year the Cothi Gardeners are celebrating Christmas by holding a festive tea at Granny’s Kitchen in Lampeter at 3.30pm on 14 December. Twenty-two of us are attending, and it’s bound to be a jolly (and delicious) event, bringing to an end a year when we have finally been able to hold in-person meetings and celebratory gatherings again. Long may it continue!


Autumn into Winter with Richard Bramley of Farmyard Nurseries

Richard Bramley, here preparing to give his talk, is from Farmyard Nurseries with 3 acres of land and 50 polytunnels near Llandysul, where 90% of the stock for sale is grown outside which helps to produce hardy plants of many varieties.

He is very keen to encourage people to think more about the colour and interest of plants – trees and shrubs can be grown in autumn and into winter.   Starting with Acers, which are not as difficult to grow as is often thought (though they don’t like wind), he showed many of the different colours, shapes and textures that can be provided by planting them. Liquidambar styraciflua, or Sweetgum, is more tolerant of wind though it doesn’t come into leaf until later in the season. Berberis thunbergii, although it is a bit prickly, is particularly worth having because it is so colourful and produces berries and flowers in addition. Also they can be kept at a smaller size if required by hard pruning, without any detriment to the look of the plant.

Winter stems, such as the many different varieties of Cornus, provide different upright shapes with a wide variety of colours and are very hardy. C. alba ‘Baton Rouge’ is one of the very bright red varieties during the winter and again Cornus produce flowers and berries.

There was a lot of discussion about Hydrangeas! The mopheads were described as ‘blocky’, whereas the Lacecap varieties of Hydrangea macrophylla are to be encouraged. Hydrangeas are (generally) enthusiastic growers and do provide colour in the flowering gap, while the H. paniculata varieties can reach up to 18 – 20 ft. Climbing Hydrangeas need to be treated differently at pruning time as they flower from the previous year’s growth but they will tolerate some shade during the flowering season which makes them very useful.

Fuchsia will grow happily into autumn and, although they will tolerate wet,  they do need plenty of light. Chrysanthemum (if cut down in spring) will last into autumn. Lavender, Nepeta, Astrantia and Campanula plus many of the daisy family, if cut down after previous flowering, can do surprisingly well. There are nearly 200 varieties of Aster now which can continue through autumn and the hybrids don’t get mildew, plus they will tolerate some shade.

Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturmwill also last, as will Leucanthemum, Helenium, Persicaria, Autumn Salvia, Kaffir Lillies, Solidago (Golden Rod), Heliopsis and many more varieties of flowers and shrubs, given some care, will reward the grower in spades (see what I did there).

Grasses will give lots of interest in the winter and there are some quite remarkable ones to try. Imperata cylindrica (Japanese Bloodgrass) when planted in a drift looks as if it’s on fire. Panicum virgatum varieties are very varied and do well when established. Grasses are deciduous and demand very little in the way of care, can be easily split, can be grown from seed and some of them flower.  There are endless varieties of grass to choose from now that will provide an addition to the garden in the cooler months.

We thanked Richard and his support act Mabel (his dog) for his informative and entertaining presentation and took full advantage of the beautiful plants which he had brought for sale from the nursery.

Native Plants as Garden Flowers; Invitation to Local Gardening Clubs; Plant Swap and Sale

Native Plants as Garden Flowers – Talk by Bob Brown of Cotswold Garden Flowers

We were lucky to once again hear an entertaining talk from Bob Brown, founder of the Cotswold Garden Flowers nursery. He started by encouraging us to put the right plant in the right place – something we all know but need constantly reminding of! 

The initial list of headings was to outline the bullet points of his talk i.e. Acclimatised & Easy, Invasive, Garden Worthy etc. Bob went on to describe the different types of plants within the headings and started with the Welsh poppy (hurrah!) and we had conversations about the habits of the plant. He continued to describe many different types of plants which come into the native plant varieties including Achillea, seakale, viper’s bugloss, Mullein, Veronica spicata and many more.

Woodland plants were described next and include Aquilegia vulgaris, Allium sphaerocephalon, wood anemone amongst many others. 

Woodland Edge plants  & bulbs came next, such as the lawn daisies, hen & chicks, single Campanula, Colchicum autumnale, Pulmonaria, celandine varieties etc.

Grasses were the next category, including woodland grasses and Bob is keen on using plants needing structural support being grown within grasses, using the grasses as the support. Dogwoods, which look good with grasses, (Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ in particular) are a favourite – he advises to cut them right down in winter.

Ferns of different types were next and his particular favourite, Polypodium vulgare, because it is evergreen in the winter but has died down by June and so makes way for other plants.

Iris types and the different areas in which they flourish came next and we discussed the very smelly Iris foetedissima (roast beef plant) & had a chat then about what the smell actually is like!

Primula varieties, which have been grown here since Eizabethan times, are a good bombproof plant for many areas. 

Roses, particularly varieties of the small Rosa pimpinellifolia ,were discussed, and then many more of the different native plants including the shrubs Salix purpurea (purple willow) and the different varieties of Sambucus nigra (elder), both of which are fast growing and invasive.

We thanked Bob for his informative and entertaining presentation and took full advantage of the beautiful plants which he had brought for sale from the nursery.


Invitation to Local Gardening Clubs

Drefach Felindre Gardening Club and Llechryd and District Gardening Club have each kindly invited all Cothi Gardeners to attend any of their meetings, which are listed below. We hope that their members will also choose to attend our meetings this year and beyond.

Drefach Felindre Gardening Club

All meetings are held at 7.30 pm in the Red Dragon Hall.  Guests simply pay £2 per meeting which includes refreshments.

Open evening October 5th

The speaker is Stuart Akkermans, ‘Cae Hir’: A Welsh Garden with a Dutch History. Light refreshments to follow. This event is free to Cothi Gardeners Club members.

Wednesday, 2nd November 2022 ‘The Gardens at Winchester Cathedral’, Emma Sharpe

Wednesday, 30th November 2022 ‘Biodynamic Gardening’, Louise Cartwright

Llechryd and District Gardening Club

Meetings are held in Boncath Hall, SA37 0JL

Wednesday 12 October at 7.30pm
‘The Treasures of Tadjikistan and Uzbekistan’ with Bob & Rannveig Wallis
Bob and Rannveig Wallis were plant hunting in Central Asia before the pandemic and this illustrated talk starts on the border with Afghanistan and goes via Samarkand and Tashkent to the Chatkai Range. This is the centre of Tulip and bulbous Iris development and also features Fritillaria and Corydalis. Superb photographs and an excellent speaker. Last club plant table of 2022.

Wednesday 9 November at 7.30pm
‘Costa Rica’ with Julian Cremona
Julian Cremona’s brilliant photography brings this small country’s amazing wildlife and flora to life. Dense broadleaf evergreen forest, palm trees, mangroves, mosses, orchids and tropical plants as well as monkeys, sloths, anteaters, snakes and iguanas. Annual Club Seed Swap. 


Plant Swap and Sale for the NGS 9 October 2022

John and Helen of Cothi Gardeners are holding their annual plant swap and sale to raise funds for the NGS on 9 October at 1pm at Ty’r Maes, Ffarmers SA19 8JP.

There will be loads of plants for sale, a lot more than last year, when just about everything went!
There will also be a table of plants that are available for a small donation. These are generally perfectly garden worthy plants that for presentational reasons are not quite up to selling standard.

People are encouraged to bring in plants to swap. Last year some wonderful plants arrived and were seized on immediately.

Tea, coffee, biscuits and cakes will be provided. If you bring extra cakes, that would be great too.
There is no charge for refreshments, but as funds are being raised for NGS charities – donations are always welcome.

A word about parking. We will be using our bottom field, opposite the turn to Ffarmers, for parking and there will be NGS signs up.
The area in front of the house will be available for loading and unloading plants.


August Social; Telegraph Garden and Indoor Plant Centre

August – time for the Cothi Gardeners’ annual social event! This year it was held at the Telegraph Garden and Indoor Plants Centre and adjacent Blossoms Cafe in Llangadog. 

Much anticipated by members, the event proved immensely popular and was extremely well attended. Following a talk by Carol from the Garden Centre, and a chance to wander through the Garden Centre and buy plants, members were able to choose from a very varied menu of savoury dishes, as well as the all-important cake, at the Blossoms Cafe. It was a coolish evening after the heat of the previous week, so the cafe felt warm and welcoming, and it was soon filled with voices and laughter as we all caught up with each other and what we had been doing. The general consensus seemed to be that the food was delicious (I can vouch for my Greek Salad), and the cakes looked mouthwatering!

The social was also an opportunity to celebrate belatedly the tenth anniversary (which was actually in 2021) of the Cothi Gardeners Club, and say thank you to Yvonne who started the club back in 2011, providing us with the pleasure of regular talks on the subject close to our hearts and the opportunity of socialising with like minds. Long-term member Donna would shortly be moving away from the area, so on the occasion of her last meeting we all wished her well for the future and settling in to her new home.

Members of Cothi Gardeners listening to Carol’s talk at the August Social

Telegraph Garden and Indoor Plant Centre

Carol has always enjoyed gardening and been passionate about plants.  Whilst working for the National Trust in Wales as their Grants Manager, she used to break the journey up and down Wales by stopping at different Garden Centres en route.  Sadly the experience tended to be the same at every one, giving a groundhog day feeling.  When Carol retired after working for 31 years for the National Trust, she set up a small Garden Centre on space rented from the Works Antiques Centre in Llandeilo.  However, illness and parking/space problems forced the closure of this Centre.  When Carol and her husband Steve moved to the Telegraph Inn at Llangadog, her daughter Lara saw the opportunity of converting the damp and overgrown area behind the building into a garden centre and The Telegraph Garden and Indoor Plants Centre was born. Although in retirement, Carol enjoys helping out and, in total, the Garden Centre in Llangadog now has 4 members of staff.

Running a garden centre can be more complicated than you might think. One of the skills you need is anticipation – for example, you need to be able to anticipate which plants Monty Don might talk about on Gardeners’ World!  Carol gave the example of Lunaria, or Honesty. Carol had plenty in stock, and they had sat happily on their table without a great deal of interest being shown until Monty Don showed some Honesty in his garden one Friday evening, and all the stock went almost instantly. You need to anticipate what plants people will want when, which means being able to second guess the weather, fashions, television gardening programmes, etc. Obviously the ideal would be for people to want to buy plants year round, and the Garden Centre encourages that, but the winter months can be quite difficult in that respect.

When creating the Telegraph Garden Centre, Carol’s daughter Lara designed the area to look like a garden. The wish was for people to enjoy looking round and to relax there, even if they did not buy anything. Certainly the displays of massed perennials for sale in pots look very much like well-composed garden beds.

At the Garden Centre they are very careful about the sourcing of plants and keen to support other local producers where possible. All the trees, decorative and fruit, are raised in Worcestershire. The bedding plants are sourced in Powys, and all the herbs are grown organically in Ceredigion.

If it is not possible to source some perennials, these are grown from cuttings or seed, and in fact many of the plants in the garden centre are raised there. For example, Nepeta ‘Blue Dragon’ was almost impossible to get hold of, but one plant was sourced and there are now young plants of Blue Dragon available to buy. Here Carol holds one of her favourite plants, Calamintha nepeta, which she grew from seed.

The Indoor Plant Centre is also a great success, with a wide variety of indoor plants always available.  This has proved enormously popular, particularly with the younger generation who really enjoy this form of gardening.

At the Garden Centre, they try to be as environmentally friendly as possible, with peat-free and reduced- peat compost always available.  Pots are recycled at the Centre on behalf of customers and charities for onward use. During the course of the year, as appropriate, plants are  divided, repotted, cut back and tidied up and the whole process started again ready for sale the following year. Customers can have their hanging baskets refilled with no charge for labour, only for the plants and compost used.

One of the downsides of running a garden centre is the paperwork, which is substantial. To counter that, there is the pride in supplying quality plants to customers, and there is the joy of propagating,  creating and nurturing new plants..

Carol finished by giving us all some of her tips. When she’s taking cuttings, she dips them first into liquid seaweed fertiliser and then into rooting powder. Cuttings should always be placed around the edge of the pot, and you need to keep them damper than you would think. Vitax Q4 is really good for plants that are looking a little tired and need perking up. Finally, when dividing plants it helps to take some root off; it might look a little brutal, but it encourages the plant to make more.

On that final note, Carol encouraged the Club members to explore the garden centre and the range of plants available, and we all made the most of the opportunity!

Ornamental Grasses; August Social

There was a great turn-out of members and guests for the excellent July talk given by Jennifer Matthews, who had travelled from Rhyd-y-Groes Gardens in the Preseli Mountains, where for 20 years until 2017 she ran Moorland Cottage Plants nursery. Now Jenny offers services such as garden design and photography, and has been opening her own garden for the National Garden Scheme for 22 years.

As background, Jenny began by telling us about her garden, which was just an upland field to begin with, explaining that she has always tried to garden with nature. It now contains, among other elements, a herbaceous perennial border, lime lollipops, a wildflower meadow including bluebells in spring, a shrub border including rhododendrons, and an ornamental meadow with cultivated native grasses and big, bold perennials.

Jenny’s introduction to grasses explained their importance as a plant family – from cereals for food and fodder to ground cover and now more and more to another plant group that gardeners are adding to their repertoire of ornamental plants.  Grasses offer elegant linear forms and year-round interest along with low maintenance.

There are three types of grasses – true grasses, sedges and rushes, and bamboos. True grasses have a wide variety of colour and growth habit, with round stems, while ‘sedges have edges’, the stems being almost triangular. Rushes have solid, round stems and need more moisture than sedges. Bamboos in their turn have hard woody stems – they can be specimen plants but also make effective screens and hedges.

Grasses can be variegated – with white, cream or yellow variegation; they can be plain green, yellow (these often do best in shade) or blue (for hot, sunny situations). There are also red, copper and brown grasses.  They do not have vivid, showy flowers, but the flowers do provide attractive structures which last well from summer into autumn.Jenny described all the different situations in which grasses can be used: herbaceous borders, island beds, mixed borders and beds, woodland gardens, architectural garden styles, flowering lawns, meadow and orchard gardens, ornamental meadows, bog gardens and water gardens (largely rushes). There are grasses for dry shade, damp shade, part shade, sunny and open sites, as well as well-drained and very sunny locations.

Jenny gave us tips on caring for grasses (they are fairly low maintenance – she described her own regime of weeding and dividing if necessary in spring, and cutting back in winter as the grasses themselves being to collapse), and for propagating them (always wait until you see the first signs of growth in spring or early summer – some grasses will be later than others). She also ran through a list of perennials which make good companion plants for grasses, a good selection of all of which she had brought with her for sale to members. After questions and warm appreciation for a fascinating talk, our appetites suitably whetted, many members made a beeline for the array of beautiful plants for sale.

Cothi Gardeners’ members enthusiastically inspecting the plants for sale

August Social

It was agreed that the August Social would be held at the Telegraph Garden Centre on 17 August in the early evening. The event will include a talk as well as refreshments – more details to follow, so watch this space…


Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to everyone.

This is a brief post to let you know that our 2022 programme starts next week. We are having the first two meetings by Zoom and then will hopefully be able to have ‘in person’ meetings from March onwards – fingers crossed!

Next weeks’ meeting is on Wednesday 19th January, 7.15pm for a 7.30pm start when Carole Whittaker will be talking to us on “The History, Medicinal Qualities and care of Monarda

These beautiful perennials from North America have been utilised since 2,500 BC by the Native American peoples for their medicinal qualities.  But the history does not stop there!  The talk covers all aspects of caring for these unusual, late summer perennials.

Carole and her husband, Pete, have established a beautiful garden, Glyn Bach, in Pembrokeshire which is home to their National Collection of Monarda. The garden is open through the NGS and Plant Heritage. Click here for their website.

If you would like to join the Zoom meeting and have not received the email with the invitation please contact Fiona at cothigardeners@gmail.com so she can send it through to you.

Monarda Collection at Glyn Bach Garden ©Carole & Pete Whittaker

For the rest of the years’ programme click here. NB we plan on holding our much delayed AGM at the March meeting.

Last Zoom Talk and Programme Update

Our last Zoom meeting (at least for now) is next Wednesday, 19th May 7.15 for a 7.30pm start.

Stephen Anderton, Gardening Correspondent for The Times will be talking to us on ‘Courageous Gardening’

“A fresh approach to gardening. Stephen investigates gardeners’ techniques, ideas and inspiration, in everything, from breeding and pruning to planting and design.  He shows remarkable gardens from all over the world and explains how their makers have single-mindedly planned and created exciting effects.  The many unconventional ideas on offer here make this one of his most popular lectures.”

It would be great if we could have as many as possible joining us as Stephen is one of our ‘Big Name’ speakers for this our 10th Anniversary year. So if you are interested in joining us and haven’t already done so, please send an email to cothigardeners@gmail.com so we can send you the Zoom invitation.

Programme Update

We are planning on having outdoor meetings for the next 4 months, so fingers crossed that the weather improves. The following visits have now been confirmed and we will be asking for names nearer the time for anyone who wishes to join us.

Wednesday, 16th June, 2pm

Outdoor talk and demonstration of propagation techniques by Helen Warrington at Ty Cwm Nursery, (Penffordd, Llanybydder SA40 9XE).


Wednesday, 21st July

Social get together (if permitted) details to follow


Wednesday, 18th August 2pm

Outdoor visit to Wild Ginger Flower Farm ( Cwm Gwenllan, Gwynfe, nr Llangadog, SA19 9PU).

An environmentally conscious flower farm and floral design studio. Talk and tour followed by refreshments. Please let Fiona know if you wish to come no later than Tuesday 3rd August.

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Wednesday, 8th September, 2.30pm

Outdoor visit to Vicki Weston Weston’s Salvias. Vicki gave us a talk a few years ago when she was based near Tregaron. She has now move from the to just north of Newcastle Emlyn where she is concentrating on her first love, Salvias. The visit will include a tour of her newly established display garden where she has some 70 – 80 different Salvias. She is also creating a large garden from scratch on a new and untouched site – definitely a work in progress but still plenty to see.

The cost will be £5 per person to include tea/coffee and cake.

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2021 Programme Update

This is a brief post to bring everyone up to date with our programme until August this year. Sadly in person indoor meetings are unlikely for the foreseeable future so we are aiming for a mix of Zoom talks and outdoor visits when the weather (hopefully) is better. The latter will be subject to change depending on when restrictions are eased to allow larger groups to meet outdoors. The Zoom talks we have had so far have proved very successful so, if anyone who hasn’t put their name down to participate would like to, please send an email to cothigardeners@gmail.com to let us know so that we can send you the invitation to join the meeting. The next one is in 2 weeks time.

WE ARE IN DESPERATE NEED OF SOMEONE TO RUN THE WEBSITE. It isn’t difficult or onerous so please do consider whether you can help out and get in touch with Elena.


Wednesday, 17th March, 7.15pm for a 7.30pm start. ZOOM Meeting

‘The Answer Lies in the Soil’ – Philip Aubury

Good gardening starts here. Soil improvement, fertilisers and compost making. Philip trained at Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Pershore Horticultural College. He started his career as a nurseryman, then lecturer, followed by Parks Manager until  finally, in 1987, returning full circle as Director of Birmingham Botanical Gardens. He retired in 2007.


Wednesday, 21st April 7.15 for7.30pm start ZOOM meeting
Julian Wormald (from Cothigardeners!) – “Wildflowers, Meadows and Gardens – challenging ideas for more naturalistic gardens.”

This will look at various aspects of wildflower hay meadows – their biodiversity, aesthetics, creation, ecology and management; and contrast this very briefly (since this is a time reduced zoom talk) with currently trendy “pictorial” meadows. Finally, it’ll consider how we can learn from wildflower hay meadows to develop more naturalistic and diverse plant based communities in our gardens. This section mainly focuses on our grass free multicultural meadow terrace garden: how it’s developed over 20 years, is maintained and changes through the seasons.

 

Lots of ideas for people to think about as our gardens are springing into life.


Wednesday, 19th May 7.15 for a 7.30pm start ZOOM meeting
Stephen Anderton – “Courageous Gardening”
A fresh approach to gardening. Stephen investigates gardeners’ techniques, ideas and inspiration, in everything, from breeding and pruning to planting and design. He shows remarkable gardens from all over the world and explains how their makers have single-mindedly planned and created exciting effects. The many unconventional ideas on offer here make this one of his most popular lectures.
Stephen is the long-standing garden writer for the Times, as well as a lecturer and author. Trained originally in Drama and then Landscape Design, he worked in historic gardens where, latterly as National Gardens Manager for English Heritage, he was responsible for several major restoration projects. Discovering Welsh Gardens was published in 2009; his official biography Christopher Lloyd, His Life at Great Dixter appeared in March 2010 and Lives of the Great Gardeners in 2018.


Wednesday, 16th June, 2pm

Outdoor talk and demonstration of propagation techniques by Helen Warrington at Ty Cwm Nursery, (Penffordd, Llanybydder SA40 9XE).


Wednesday, 21st July

Social get together (if permitted) details to follow


Wednesday, 18th August 2pm

Outdoor visit to Wild Ginger Flower Farm ( Cwm Gwenllan, Gwynfe, nr Llangadog, SA19 9PU).

An environmentally conscious flower farm and floral design studio. Talk and tour followed by refreshments. Please let Fiona know if you wish to come no later than Tuesday 3rd August.


Provisional Programme for Early 2021; Survey about Local Nature Reserve; NGS Gardens Opening in 2021

For any other Cothigardeners, like Fiona, who were efficient enough to mark the diary, you’ll see that today, Wednesday December 15th was due to have been our pre-Christmas get together and lunch.

Sadly, that’s been off the agenda for a long time now, but given the ongoing state of restrictions which will certainly stretch into the early part of 2021, Elena and Fiona have made a valiant effort at coming up with a revised possible programme for the early part of 2021, which was to have been filled with a bumper selection of visiting speakers, since it’s the tenth anniversary year of the founding of the club by Yvonne and Colin and friends.

The early meetings for 2021 are now planned to be Zoom events, which whilst not being accessible to all, at least gives the opportunity for some members to interact in a remote way!

For anyone unfamiliar with ZOOM,  you do need to download the ZOOM app in advance onto your device, and you’re then sent a personal secure code, which you’ll need to use to allow you to join the meeting on the night.

We will email anyone hoping to be part of these meetings more details in due course.

The programme, below, is still a little tentative so do please bear with it, and look out for more notifications from Elena when physical meetings or even garden visits can take place again:

Kari Astri – “Water, shade, clay and weeds” – Date to be confirmed.
How this gardener is still learning to embrace and love her garden, (and most of the things that dwell within it).
Many of us don’t inherit a garden that is a blank space. We may have our own ideas and planting preferences, but how the garden develops is also shaped by what is already there. I’ll be sharing thoughts on gardening, planting and some new favourite plants from the last few years spent working on the ongoing project that is our quarter-acre garden in Wiltshire.
Kari has already visited and talked to Cothigardeners twice before in recent years, so we’re really delighted that she’s offered to give us a new talk via Zoom, at very short notice.

Wednesday, 17th February 7.30pm ZOOM meeting
Dr. Lizzie Wilberforce – title still to be announced. Lizzie has over 10 years experience as the conservation manager for the reserves of the Wildlife trusts of South West wales, and is always an interesting speaker, with her background as an ecologist. She’s recently changed jobs and is now working as Nature Reserves Project officer for Plantlife Cymru. We’re very grateful for her stepping into this February slot at short notice.

Wednesday, 17th March 7.30pm ZOOM meeting.
Philip Aubury – “The answer lies in the soil”. Good gardening starts here. Soil improvement, fertilisers and compost making.
Philip’s career started as a Nurseryman, then lecturer, Parks Manager until he finally became Director of Birmingham Botanical Gardens in 1987. He retired in 2007.

Wednesday, 21st April 7.30pm ZOOM meeting
Julian Wormald (from Cothigardeners!) – “Wildflowers, Meadows and Gardens – challenging ideas for more naturalistic gardens.”
This will look at various aspects of wildflower hay meadows – their biodiversity, aesthetics, creation, ecology and management; and contrast this very briefly (since this is a time reduced zoom talk) with currently trendy “pictorial” meadows. Finally, it’ll consider how we can learn from wildflower hay meadows to develop more naturalistic and diverse plant based communities in our gardens. This section mainly focuses on our grass free multicultural meadow terrace garden: how it’s developed over 20 years, is maintained and changes through the seasons.



Lots of ideas for people to think about as our gardens are springing into life.

Wednesday, 19th May 7.30pm ZOOM meeting
Stephen Anderton – “Courageous Gardening”
A fresh approach to gardening. Stephen investigates gardeners’ techniques, ideas and inspiration, in everything, from breeding and pruning to planting and design. He shows remarkable gardens from all over the world and explains how their makers have single-mindedly planned and created exciting effects. The many unconventional ideas on offer here make this one of his most popular lectures.
Stephen is the long-standing garden writer for the Times, as well as a lecturer and author. Trained originally in Drama and then Landscape Design, he worked in historic gardens where, latterly as National Gardens Manager for English Heritage, he was responsible for several major restoration projects. Discovering Welsh Gardens was published in 2009; his official biography Christopher Lloyd, His Life at Great Dixter appeared in March 2010 and Lives of the Great Gardeners in 2018.


For those keen on outside visits, Elena has plans for these possible visits for later in the year when the weather improves – further details to follow :

Helen Warrington, Ty Cwm Nursery – An open air talk at her nursery.
Bob Brown – A visit to his garden for a guided tour.
Garden Safari – Visits to our very own Cothi Gardeners members gardens.

Plus if we’re not allowed back into the hall for a longer period:

The possibility of an outdoor cinema in the grounds of Coronation Hall

A film: ‘Flicker and Pulse – A year in an English garden’

A striking and poignant portrayal of time passing in a beautiful English walled garden. Using real-time and time-lapse footage, the film explores the relationship between the seasons and the plants and people who work within the walls of the garden. The Beeches, Barcombe is an 18th Century house with 8 acres of land and gardens which include the 300 year old lovingly restored walled garden in which the film was shot.


Dr. Lizzie Wilberforce (our February speaker) has sent a link to a survey she’s created on how people view wildlife, and visits they might make to nature reserves – in particular the local Plantlife Cymru reserve at Cae Blaen-dyffryn, click here to view, which is located beside the Pumsaint to Lampeter road. It only takes a couple of minutes to complete, but if you’re able to, do please have a go – it’ll provide useful insights for Lizzie and Plantlife into how much we all know about, and use this lovely orchid rich site. Please click here to complete the survey.


It’s a bit early to be planning garden visits for 2021, given the time of year, and changing Covid restrictions, but the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) has many local gardens due to be opening by arrangement to visitors next year. We’re still lucky to have 3 lovely nearby Cothigardeners’ gardens which will be open to visit under the NGS next year:

John and Helen at Ty’r Maes (April to October)

Brenda and Alan at Bwlchau duon (June to August)

Julian and Fiona at Gelli Uchaf (January to October).

Click here to find the complete listing of gardens in Wales which are opening in this way, with pictures and details of all the gardens involved.


Finally, to finish this rather long post, and as flagged up to members by Elena in her recent email, this is going to be my last post as website manager. 😊👍😢 (Take your pick!)

After 2 years as chair of Cothigardeners followed immediately by 2 years doing the website, it’s time for a bit of a break, and for the club to have a different input on things. You’ll see that I’m going to surface again anyway with a ZOOM talk in April, which I hope you’ll be interested in, and am still going to be doing my own blog and website, but I need a bit of a break from too much screen and keyboard work, which has anyway been increasing for another project.

For all of you quiet, retiring folk who haven’t yet volunteered to Elena to take over the website, do please give it some thought, and make a positive new year resolution, and tackle a new challenge. It’s great fun, keeps the brain cells working and I’m happy to talk anyone through how it’s done, having done this with 3 other people already, to set up or run their own blogs, and who all got the hang of it in a couple of hours or less.

I’m always here as a back up adviser/problem solver, as indeed are the clever “Happiness Engineers” at WordPress, who are only a click away if anything untoward happens – it rarely does, believe me.

Plus, you’ll have the satisfaction of deciding what to include, and then seeing how many people read or look at what you put up on the web. I see that over the last 2 years, about 1500 people per annum from 42 different countries have seen a little about what’s going on in Pumsaint!

I started our own website as a complete computer technophobe. The fact that I’m still going after 10 years, and well over half a million words, shows how easy it is, and how much I value doing it, both as a way of creating a record, spreading information, and as a stimulus to finding out new things.

Thanks to everyone for looking at anything I’ve churned out over the last 2 years, and for everyone who’s sent me anything to include on this website. Fiona and I send everyone our very best wishes for a happy and peaceful Christmas, and hope to see you soon in 2021. (And thanks to Fiona for creating the wintry images for this post).