Monday, 30 October 2017

Autumn Beach Clean

There's barely a week gone by this year where we we haven't visited a beach. We are spoilt for choice with beaches such as Southerdown, Ogmore, Newton, Llantwit Major and even Barry Island and Porthcawl less than twenty minutes from our door. In the summer it's long lazy days with a picnic but more often than not it's a Sunday afternoon walk.

It is not unusual to find ourselves the only ones on there, braving all weathers come rain or shine. It sounds idyllic, and it often is, but it's very rare that we don't spot a piece rubbish of some description or other. Even in the most remote places  it's hard to escape, beaches that may not have seen another human for days or even weeks are invariably littered with rubbish.

As we are all becoming increasingly aware plastic, and particularly single use plastic, have become a real issue for the environment. Items such as plastic bags and bottles are hugely damaging for marine life either being mistaken for food or getting tangled around the animal. The chances are that it probably wasn't even left on that beach, a huge amount of rubbish washes in with every tide. Litter dropped in any town or city can easily make its way to the shore. With the expected lifespan of most plastic bottles estimated at 500 years it's going to be around for a very long time.

The good news is that looking into the problem very quickly gives you the chance to do something about it. Led by a charity called Surfers Against Sewage beach cleans are now happening all of the time. Volunteers all over the country are getting together and fighting back. The best thing is that if there isn't a beach clean happening near you Surfers Against Sewage will give you all of the resources to organise your own.

Surfers Against Sewage originally came about when a group of surfers in Cornwall had become increasingly frustrated by the levels of pollution in Britain's waters. Initially campaigning about sewage they are now one of the UK's most active and successful environmental charities and focus on all areas of marine conservation.

By chance this week was the 2017 Autumn Beach Clean; a big push before winter to get the litter removed from our beaches. It's not just tourists that visit the beaches in the summer, they are used year round but once the summer holiday makers have left they often forgotten about, or left to the locals to clean up.

On arrival at the beach we were greeted by the Surfers Against Sewage rep along with a handful of volunteers. Kitted out with gloves and a black bag my four year old son and I set of along the beach in search of rubbish. Of course to him it was like a treasure hunt, he is rarely happier than when he's on the beach so any excuse to get down there is good enough for him.

Two hours later we returned with a bin bag full of rusty old beer cans, fishing line, string and inevitably plastic bottles. Looking back throughout the clean more and more people had joined in, by the time we had finished the ten that started had very quickly turned into about thirty or so; in fact there were more people the beach with bin bags in hand than without.

The sense of freedom you get on a beach, looking out at a huge expanse of seemingly never ending water, is like nothing else. These truly are places that must be protected and not destroyed and run down like so many others. With millions of people visiting Britain's beaches each year if everybody picked up some of rubbish a little bit would go a very long way. We'll certainly be doing another beach clean and I'll be telling anyone that will listen that they should do the same.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

A week away in Cornwall provided the perfect opportunity to visit a garden that has been on my list for a very long time, The Lost Gardens of Heligan. With so many beautiful gardens in Cornwall I could have chosen to visit any, but this one held particular intrigue. 

Having read about it and seen various pieces on television the attraction was clear, this was unlike any other country estate or manor house garden, this was something that had lain neglected for years, forgotten and unwanted. This was all until a chance discovery prompted was has now become the largest garden restoration project in Europe.

The vegetable gardens were as magnificent as you would expect from a garden of this stature. Originally providing food for the table of the grand house, this series of gardens now supply the Heligan kitchen with fresh fruit and vegetables for much of the year.

Each was as productive and well organised as the next with an emphasis on production above all else. Beans that had grown too big or that were past their best were left to dry either for the kitchen during winter or for seed for next years plants. Huge beds of asparagus blew in the wind capturing all of the suns energy ready for next years spears.

The brassica beds were also a point of huge envy, those that have read my previous posts know the woes I have had with the dreaded cabbage white butterflies, or specifically the caterpillars this year. My own fault really for trying to chose aesthetics over practicality and not netting them; a mistake I won't be making next year.

For many, the main draw of Heligan  is the jungle. Set in a damp, wooded valley facing down towards the sea you could easily imagine yourself in another world let alone another country. Giant Gunneras  dwarf you as you weave your way around the paths. Banana trees, palm trees and bamboo canes all combine to fantastic effect.  This is something that Cornwall's unique weather really lends itself to and is a real rarity elsewhere in the British Isles.

Of course I couldn't visit Heligan without crossing the famous Burmese rope bridge. If you thought that walking along the jungle floor was unique, walking through the treetops was something else. Providing a whole new perspective onto the magical world below.

Cornwall is a truly beautiful place anyway, given the chance I'm sure we'd all move there in an instant; I know I certainly would anyway. It was an absolute pleasure to look around, explore and enjoy these gardens for a day and I cannot recommend it enough. If you're in Cornwall and looking for a garden to visit put Heligan on the top of your list, you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

The National Botanic Garden of Wales

Following a week away in West Wales the return journey seemed like a perfect opportunity to visit Wales' most popular garden. With 8000 different plant varieties, set in 560 acres, the National Botanic Garden of Wales is a plant lovers dream.

We had visited before, a couple of years ago, I think on that day the incessant rain had rather ruined the visit for us. We ended up rushing around not really taking it all in so having the chance to visit again was a real treat.

Due to the size of the site you often get the pleasure of feeling like you have it all to yourself. Long walks around the lakes, surrounded by wildflowers, or a detour along a woodland path will lead you away from the main drag and present you with a wealth of different plants and habitats.

Of course the main attraction of the garden in the great glasshouse right in the middle of it all. This is the largest single span glasshouse anywhere in the world and also boasts the largest collection of Mediterranean plants in the Northern hemisphere. Although it is a huge man-made structure, due to the design it doesn't look at all out of place in the rolling Welsh countryside in which it sits.

Of particular interest to me, as followers of this blog will know, was the vegetable garden. As a keen grower myself it's always fascinating to see other gardens throughout the seasons; not just to see what they are growing but how, where and when they are growing it. You're guaranteed to learn something and take inspiration from what others are doing. Whether that's looking over the fence at somebody else's plot on the allotment or visiting a garden as fabulous as this, there's always something to take in.

The vegetable gardens didn't disappoint; spread over multiple areas everything you could imagine was being either grown or harvested. The 'Growing  the Future' garden was particularly good with great examples of what can be done in smaller spaces and an absolute abundance of fruit and veg just waiting to be picked. The brassica collection in the Wallace garden was also a sight to behold and a cause of great envy after my annual summer battle with the cabbage whites.

The double walled garden also definitely deserves a mention. The main growing space for vegetables, and more formal than the other areas, great rows of leeks, onions, fennel, artichokes and much more surround you as you walk along the gravelled paths.

After a day spent wandering around there is also an excellent garden centre at the end with some great plants on sale that can be hard to find elsewhere. This is something that increasingly frustrates me living in Wales, an absolute lack of decent garden centres nearby. Unless you want ornaments or plant pots there very little around other than the standard B&Q and Homebase. If you want actual plants the internet is usually the best place which is a real shame.

Having an allotment can sometimes seem a chore particularly in the summer when it is at it's most productive and you've perhaps been away for a week or two. The best thing you can do is get out and see what others are doing, take inspiration and ideas away and apply them to your own space. I can guarantee that you'll return invigorated with a fresh appetite for your space and a re-found love of why you do it all in the first place.