WELCOME!

Cae Non is a secluded five acre field in north west Wales where people and nature are working in tandem to develop a completely natural organic area for the mutual benefit and enjoyment of all.

Enjoy the wide open spaces; the clear dome of the sky and the vistas of mountains around you. Bask in the sunshine,the water, the banks of wild flowers. Explore the pathways, the labyrinth and the island. Discover the groves, pools and bowers. A walk around Cae Non can be merely a nice amble through nature, or a deeply meaningful spiritual adventure of self-discovery and connection.

This is an on-going project which is still in its infancy. Come and be part of it. Volunteers are greatly appreciated.... and well fed! Visitors warmly welcomed and well looked after.

Regular retreats and workshops are held, see the events page for details.



Plant shopping and availability

Posted on: July 9th, 2012 by
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Well, it’s been almost three months since my last post on the herb garden blog. Ironically, the last post was made on my birthday! Due to a traffic accident, I haven’t been able to do any gardening – certainly not the heavy-duty Cae Non variety anyway!

What I have been doing is tracking down suppliers of the kind of herbs and plants I want to buy – unfortunately I often want to buy plants that are 1) hard to get to germinate, and, 2) are considered by many horticulturalists as little more than weeds. Usually seeds are available but not roots/tubers, cuttings or growing plants. If the plant I want is available, it is usually some tarted-up cultivar. For instance: No, I do not want a hybrid, variegated, gold-nugget-for-rhizome forming blue flag. I want a bog standard (literally in this case!) Iris versicolor.

This has got me thinking… a usually dangerous state for me to be in. Perhaps there should be some way for people interested in growing medicinal plants (and not necessarily limited to medical herbalists) to share, swap, trade, or sell such hard to find and grow ‘weeds’ at a reasonable cost or in exchange? Maybe there is already such a system that I don’t know about? Leave me a comment if there is!  If not i would be interested in sharing my plants and exchanging cuttings, etc with others… and at some point may very possibly sell some plants at a reasonable price to others in the area who are interested in these sorts of plants.


A Foot in Both Worlds

Posted on: July 6th, 2012 by
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Who remembers the long-running T.V. series “A Little House on the Prairie”? It was actually based on a series of nine children’s books by Laura Ingalls Wilder which documented her childhood living out in the newly settled wilds of America in the 1870’s and 1880’s. I am currently just nearing the end of the sixth book, “The Long Winter”. In it, Laura and her family have recently settled out on the prairie in North Dakota in a tiny community which is less than a year old.

Before they can properly establish themselves there, they have to endure a very severe winter which lasts from October until may of the following year, during which time they are constantly assailed by ferocious blizzards and bitter temperatures of –40 degrees and lower. They come perilously close to both freezing and starving to death. Unlike  their old way of life back in the forests of the east, the new settlers, (enticed by government grants and promises) cannot now survive without outside intervention. Basic supplies such as coal, kerosine and basic foods stuffs have to be brought in regularly by railroad to make existence in the open wilderness possible.

Until the growth of the industrial revolution and the colonising of far-flung and totally disparate parts of the globe, communities were largely self-sufficient and independent. Life was often hard and infinitely precarious but the trials and tribulations of the small, regular day to day activities helped to keep one sharply focused on survival. Today a high percentage of people in the west have everything supplied to them.

If we are to thrive and grow, physically and spiritually, we definitely need to move away from a life that is totally devoted to little more than basic survival. We must have the time and space to make decisions from choice, not just necessity, to reflect, meditate, develop.

Conversely whilst needing the leisure to learn and grow, we mustn’t loose the focus and connection which working and living in tandem with the basics of life automatically gives us. In 2012 we are incredibly lucky! We can still connect with the bedrock of our existence yet have the safety-net of modern convenience to allow us our physical, emotional and spiritual freedom. Like the mystical “travellers between the worlds” we can all walk with one foot on each level of existence: the primitive world of basic survival and the advanced, refined society which can provide – and guarantee – a good degree of space, freedom and security. From here we can much more easily learn and grow on many diverse levels.

As I stand looking up the rain sodden field towards the Hafod, looking for all the world like a very little house on the Welsh prairie, I am engulfed with excitement! Here in this untamed corner of north west Wales, we are all being automatically given the unique opportunity to sample this duality of experience and achievement. Whoever comes here, no matter how long or short their stay, cannot avoid it. Would you be brave enough to accept the challenge? ….. and what would you make of it if you did?


Really good herbs for wet, clay soils

Posted on: July 6th, 2012 by
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Due to the spring finally bursting forth, the days getting longer, and the air getting warmer, it’s time to start thinking about planting seeds for the Cae Non herb garden. Nevermind thinking, more appropriately, it’s time to start planting the seeds.

As the raised beds are not built and will only come along later in the summer, I needed to turn my attention to plants I could put directly into the wet, clay soil that we have; of course, medicinal value is also considered. So, when a University assignment about researching plants and growing conditions came alone, it proved the ultimate excuse to turn my thoughts back to Cae Non.

The following plants have been selected for their tolerance to heavy clay soil, damp growing conditions, and ease of cultivation.

Many have seeds readily available, if not, cuttings, roots, etc are available and can often be ‘borrowed’ from the wild – or the local municipal park!

BarberryMahonia aquifolium.
This large shrub (3×5 ft spread) has many medicinal uses. It likes partial shade, heavy, damp soil and should do wonderfully as an architectural ‘feature plant’ – especially with it’s lovely yellow flowers in the spring!

Guelder Rose – Viburnum opulus.
Also known as cramp bark, the bark of this plant makes an excellent remedy for menstrual cramps, migraine/tension headaches, stomach spasm, etc. It has a similar growth habit as Mahonia, liking damp, heavy soil.

ElecampaneInula helenium.
Seeds sown into finely raked drills in the spring. Likes moist growth media and sun. Ht, 3 ft. An amazing herb for boosting immunity in the autumn!

BurdockArctium lappa.
Favourite of the northern drink, ‘Dandelion and Burdock’ this is a must grow herb for our location; It likes open fields and wasteland and grows to quite a height (5ft.).

BorageBorago officinalis.
This sturdy plant will be a great addition for its adaptogenic properties. Though an annual, it will be a worthwhile herb, and benefit the soil with its tap-root.

ComfreySymphytum officinalis.
Large (5ft.) plant with very deep set tap roots; it is rich in minerals and can be used as a green manure. More importantly, it is a phenomenally powerful tissue healing agent.

FoxgloveDigitalis purpurea.
A poison. I want it for it’s lovely flowers and deep taproot!

MulleinVerbascum thapsus.
The herb of choice for many respiratory complaints, this is also ideal for the virgin ground of Cae Non; it likes wet soil and has a deep tap root.

Milk ThistleSilybum marianum
Another large field plant. While planting thistles may seem a bit daft, this is actually an amazingly useful plant; protective to the liver and a great way to recover from a hangover! Again, tolerant of wet, clay soil and with a reasonable height (4ft.)

WoadIsatis tinctoria.
Not a medicinal herb, but one that is a source of an indigo like dye. I have always wanted to try making woad body paint. Maybe I’ll have the courage to make the dye (by peeing on the plant material to start a fermentation process that bonds the dye to the ammonia in the urine).

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If you look up most of these plants, you’ll find a common thread. They are mostly biennial plants that like poor soil and waste ground. Apart from Mahonia and Viburnum they also all share deep-growing tap root systems. These are useful in our clay as the roots will grow down to the mineral and nutrient pockets in the clay that wouldn’t be accessible to shallower rooting plants. The roots will also help break up the soil aerating it and allowing bacteria to multiply and aid in breathing life back into the soil. These plants will grow in partial shade/partial sun and can probably all take full sun, some shelter is a boon.

I will be running a workshop one weekend in June 2012 on herbs and heavy soil – a chance to learn about planting medicinally useful plants in heavy, wet, clay soils that wouldn’t be suitable for the more normal perception of herbs needing dry, well drained environments. Date and price TBC, in region of mid June, priced around £20 for the day.

Perhaps you have thoughts or experience of these plants? Why not share it with us and leave a comment below?


Winter – The busiest time of the year?

Posted on: July 6th, 2012 by
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As we see the year turning towards Winter, with autumn in full flow around us, one might think that this time of year would be an opportunity to relax and take things easy ’till the spring. As far as physically strenuous labour goes, that might be right… but this is by no means a quiet time.

If you follow the wheel of the year, you will note that from Samhain to the Winter Solstice is marked as a ‘liminal’ time – a sort of time out of time. This is true to an extent, but it is by no means quiet or dead. I see this time as the part of the year where new ideas and projects start shining forth into manifestation. The so-called dead time is actually when next-year’s projects and labours are born.

It is also the time when we do a lot of background work – making things, preparing stuff, ordering and buying things in.

Check back over the next few weeks – we have some intersting announcements to make, and some good stuff on the way!


The March of the Trees

Posted on: July 5th, 2012 by
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IMG00155-20120805-1739It suddenly struck me this afternoon that I hadn’t blogged about the trees we’d planted at Cae Non. The cultivation and use of trees (for spiritual as well as material uses) is a key tenet of our vision for Cae Non, to this end last winter and early spring, we planted over 700 trees. So far, we have planted:

  • 200 Alder (Alnus glutinosa)
  • 200 Downy Birch (Betulina pubescens
  • 100 Wild Cherry (Prunus avium)
  • 300+ Willow (Salix spp.) – Basket and fast growing ‘super’ willow.

We have also planted an oak grove consisting of 8 sessile oaks, and a ‘feminine’ grove consisting of hazel, blackthorn, birch, crab apple, mountain ash trees.

So far, less than a year after planting, the trees are on the whole doing really, really well.

The one exception to this is the wild cherry, but these were not intentionally planted – we were given them by someone who needed to find a use for them! The most obvious success is the Alder trees – they are absolutely on fire, rocketing away… Thus far, they have grown over a foot since we planted them, and the season isn’t over yet! The Birches have mainly taken also, but are growing more slowly than the alders. 

The willow have established themselves really well, and this is great because unlike the Alders, they were propagated by cuttings of willow stem pushed into the sodden ground. The viability rate has been very good and most of them have grown 2 – 3 feet – and some were only planted as sticks in March!

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Part of our Willow Plantation

But perhaps one of the biggest surprises is the success we’ve had with our Oak Trees. One, that was planted last august has reached a height of about 4 feet and has really bushed out and looks fantastic! We’ll know when we’ve succeeded when it’s possible to sit underneath it and look up at the branches way above!

IMG00158-20120805-1755

It’s really amazing to see how quickly the oaks are growing – Oak has a reputation of being a slow-growing tree, but ours are sprouting shoots that are at least 6 inches long – quite a feat for trees that are 3 feet tall! They’re also lovely because the shoots are a beautiful shade of red! IMG00159-20120805-1755

Bolstered by how well these trees are doing, we are (of course) going to plant more. The plans currently are to plant at least several hundred more trees this coming winter. Discussions with experienced horticulturalists, and observing what grows well here suggests planting more of the same (mainly willow and alder) and many more oaks. It has also been suggested that we could (and will) try planting wych elms, elder, poplar, and more oaks on the drier areas.

The real victory for improving the land will be when the trees start to drop leaves and create a bed of leaf mould, which combined with greater shade will start to discourage (kill) the grass and start changing parts of the land from boggy grass-choked swamp into drier light woodland. This leaf mold will also be useful on areas of the land where there aren’t trees – it’s good compost for growing vegetables, herbs, fruit, and much more besides. Given that we can’t bring in soil due to logistical reasons and that we have about an inch of topsoil, this will be hugely important in enriching the soil, and enabling the field to be more productive in other ways.

The march of the trees has begun!


Weather station Mk.II

Posted on: July 3rd, 2012 by
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My makeshift Stephenson screen

At last, at the end of October I got my improved weather station established. I always knew my Stephenson screen would not easily fall over in that dense soil at Cae Non but I did not expect it to be such hard work ramming the stand deep enough down. It took two attempts, two broken off struts and one broken louvre panel and yet it is still about 6 inches higher as I would have wished for. Anyway, there it is and the clay will hold it firmly in place.

The instruments inside

The instruments inside are the minimum/maximum thermometer which I transferred from under the now obsolete plant pots and a Mason hygrometer. The latter has a dry and wet bulb thermometer and from the difference between the two the relative humidity can be established by means of a slide rule.

Finally, attached to one of the bottom struts is another minimum/maximum thermometer, dangling just 5 cm (2 inches) above ground level so that I now also capture the grass minimum temperature and the first grass frost has already been recorded.

Further improvements and additions are already taking shape in my head and will gradually be implemented over the course of the next few months.


Herb Garden Plans and Planting List

Posted on: July 3rd, 2012 by
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Well, winter is the time to plan and prepare for the year ahead. Recently, it struck me that I only have one growing season between now and when I graduate from university. Which is quite a scary thought!

It means that In 18 months I’ll be growing, processing, healing and hopefully teaching people with the fruits of the herb garden. So I thought that the time to pee around has gone… a basket with a few herbs in looks good, but isn’t really useful for that kind of deal. So here’s my plan for my ‘little’ herb garden.

Herb Garden v1

The 4 beds at the front are 3’ x 12’. The crazy structure between them is 4 2-foot square tubs with a second on top in the middle to give a 3-D planter for dangly plants, and to give a bit of interest.

The bed on the back – left is not raised, and is for native plants that will agree with the clay as it is. Same with the one on the back-right which is for larger herbs and shrubs. Yes, I have put a small fountain in the garden. Hopefully one that won’t attract flies. Ideally with a small pump to keep the bastards out.

In the middle is a table and chair for potting, a cold-frame, and a tubbery of some larger pots for things I might want to move easily enough. These include deadly poisons and non-hardy plants.

I was originally going to arrange the beds by size of plant, then by affinity (eg, one bed of stomach herbs, etc.) but then I realised that given the challenges we have with soil, the best way might be to arrange by soil requirement. Have Cae Non clay in one (But raised up for drainage), 50/50 Cae Non clay and compost in another, 50/50 sand and compost in another, and finally a bed of pure compost for the greedy plants (such as roses).

List of herbs (English Names) I want to eventually grow (herbs I have underlined: herbs I consider high-priority in bold):

Agrimony
Vitex-agnus castus
Angelica
Aniseed
Barberry (Berberis)
Bayberry
Belladonna (Deadly poison).
Betony
Bistort
Black Cohosh
Borage
Burdock
Catmint
Celery
Chamomile
Chickweed
Coltsfoot
Comfrey
Cowslip
Cramp bark
Dill
Dog rose
Echinacea
Elder
Elecampane
Eucalyptus – globulus
Eyebright
Fennel
Feverfew
Gentian
Garlic
Ginseng
Golden Rod
Golden Seal
Gravel Root
Ground Ivy
Hawthorne
Heartsease
Henbane (Deadly poison).
Hops
Horseradish
Horsetails.
Hyssop
Juniper
Lady’s Mantle
Lemon balm
Lesser celendine
Lilly of the valley (Deadly poison).
Lime tree
Liquorice
Lobelia (Deadly poison).
Lungwort
Marigold
Meadowsweet
Motherwort
Mullein
Nettles
Passionflower
Peppermint
Raspberry
Red Clover
Ribwort Plantain
Rosemary
Sage
St. John’s Wort
Skullcap
Slippery elm
Thyme
Tormentil
Valerian (If cat not eaten).
Vervain (Come on, Cae Non must have what in Welsh is still called ‘The Druid herb’)
White deadnettle
White Horehound
Wild Cherry
Witch hazel
Wormwood
Yarrow
Yellow Dock

= Total 79.

 

I’d be really, really interested to hear what others have to say, both about the design-plan, and the planting list! What do you think? I shall probably be having a few herb-planting weekends next summer – volunteers to help me out much appreciated. You’ll be bed, watered and I’ll explain a bit about the herbs and what they do, and other entertaining herb-based activities, etc.


First potato harvest!

Posted on: July 1st, 2012 by
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First potatoes

First potatoes

Well, the last day of August saw Holger lift his first crop of ‘Cae Non potatoes’! With the distinct lack of good top soil anywhere in the field they were actually planted back in March in old car tyres in soil that needed to be ferried in bag by bag from our garden at home. Being rather thirsty plants, Cae Non with its abundance of water close to the surface promised to be the ideal place for them and they did indeed start off very well but with experiencing the wettest summer for a hundred years I became somewhat apprehensive that they might not do half as well below the surface as they did above. When after a faint attempt at flowering the leaves died off in the middle of August I didn’t think there was much chance of a harvest at all but emptying the tyres eventually yielded 32 lb of ‘Druid’ potatoes in their  beautiful looking reddish skin – not bad after all for a first crop! Now I need to separate them into the smaller ones to keep for next year’s seed potatoes and the bigger ones for our tummies. And of course, I then remembered that for once I actually planted them on time and not, like in previous years at home, as late as May and with 20 weeks assumed time from planting to harvest they where spot  on time with no need to worry.

After this encouraging result I now very much want to increase production next year and have already got an idea how i might be able to raise productivity within the individual tyres so stay tuned!


Damage Limitation

Posted on: July 1st, 2012 by
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Needless to say, after the glorious weather that we have been enjoying this last couple of weeks or so, everything on the land is surging ahead! The ground is finally beginning to dry out; the herbage to sprout rapidly; the established trees to break out in velvety pussy willow and the first tender pale green leaves. The picture here was taken beforeRos and Neil at Cae Non 001

the leaves had begun to emerge and only the little blobs of soft down are visible. We have seen the first bumble bees haphazardly navigating their way around the field… last summer we noticed that there are a lot of little wild colonies buried in the long grasses. And last Saturday, as we were sitting enjoying our very first barbeque in celebration of Dafydd’s birthday, we watched, spellbound, as a hare slowly lollopped across the neighbouring field and then sat watching us for a few moments before continuing on its unhurried way. I suspect that it had been down to the stream to drink. We have a couple of ducks who are quite taken with our island and its surrounding channel, although they do not enjoy the dogs wild cavorting and tend to take off over the hedge in a flurry of feathers and noisy quacking whenever golden fur is even vaguely scented! All this firmly draws my attention to the fact that this land is already the home of so many wild animals, birds and insects and that we must really do our best to cause the least disruption… not easy when out of necessity one has to dig things up and chop things down to establish a viable environment for us all to enjoy. It never ceases to amaze me how accommodating and forgiving nature is when it comes to coping with the selfish thoughtless actions and blundering crass behaviour of humankind. Even in my joy at creating something new with the earth, it grieves me to realise just what a traumatic occurrence our coming must have been. This applies to all of us, wherever we go and whatever we do. We tread upon tiny lives, breaking and bruising plants – even the grass generously accepts our thoughtless abuse. I also realise that we are what we are and cannot help a lot of it… we have to walk, sit, lie, eat… but perhaps if we become more aware, and teach our children to be more aware too, then we can mitigate some of the damage we cause with loving attention, care and above all gratitude.