Post Archives tagged ‘garden’



No-Dig Herb Beds with Mulch Membrane

Posted on: March 11th, 2017 by
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An alternative to lasagna beds, straw bale beds, etc.

As I mentioned in the last post about our plans for 2017, and my plans for the herb garden at Cae Non in particular, I have a need to rapidly extend the amount of land I have ‘under the boot’ to grow my herbs in. This year is shaping up to be the year that, having got my herbal medicine practice established, I turn my attention back to growing herbs in earnest. Before, I had used raised beds filled with topsoil, but I just can’t get enough soil to do this. Various no-dig methods appeal to me, but most require a lot of biomass to make it work and I just don’t have access to that. Despite being mostly clay and not having much organic matter, the soil at Cae Non is surprisingly rich – the boulder-clay laid down by a glacier thousands of years ago is packed with minerals. It is also incredibly hard to dig. With my busted elbow, digging is out. So I made these. No dig herb beds with mulch membrane. Have a watch of this video and see for yourself:

Raised Beds – Building the Herb Garden

Posted on: August 20th, 2013 by
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Raised Beds 1

Building Raised Beds

The year is flying round at quite a pace, and it has been quite a while since I posted updates with progress on the herb garden. But we haven’t been idle…

Unfortunately, due to ongoing renovation work at our house, we have rather a lot of reclaimed timber at the moment. It has been absolutely ideal for making raised beds for my herbs, and so far, I have made 4 largish (7 x 3′) beds that are about 18” deep. As it happens, the hard work was not in building them, but filling them with soil; each bed took about 25 sacks of topsoil to fill. As the soil at Cae Non is so heavy with clay, we have bought in a ton of topsoil, and these beds have used most of it.

Planting up

Planting the first set of herbs for 2013

The soil is enriched with some good quality topsoil/compost we found on site, this has generally been used to top the beds as it is of better quality than the topsoil we bought in! I have also added layers of grass clippings to try to introduce some organic matter into the soil. The one different thing that I have done with these beds that is entirely new to me is the addition of bio-char. Bio-char is the introduction of small charcoal pieces into soil – it serves two purposes: firstly it locks up carbon in the soil in a very stable form that is stable for thousands of years, thus sequestering carbon. But it is the second remarkable property of bio-char that we are interested in in these beds: It greatly enriches the soil. It improves drainage as it is porous, acting as a growth media for beneficial bacteria that will put life back into the soil. It will also directly fertilise the soil too as it is rich in potash and some other minerals. This idea originates with the South American tribes who use this process to make what is known as ‘Terra Preta’ – the foundation of their crop cultivation for millennia. For those interested, more information is available here on Wikipedia.

The first bed to be constructed had the most bio-char in it as I’ve been enriching it for the longest time: It has also grown the best herbs as you can see from the photo below:

First raised beds finished and in bloom!

First raised beds finished and in bloom!

The planting list for the four raised beds so far is:

Bed 1:
Eschscholzia californica – Californian poppy
Matricaria recutita
– Chamomille
Achillea milefolium
– Yarrow

Bed 2:
Borago officinalis – Borage
Silybum marianum – Milk Thistle

Bed 3:
Althea officinalis – Mallow
Leonurus cardiaca – Motherwort
Digitalis purpurea – Purple Foxglove
Arctium lappa – Burdock

Bed 4:Valeriana officinalis – Valerian
Verbena officinalis – Vervain
Inula helenium – Elecampane

Many more raised beds are planned, but this is a good start for this summer, and we should soon be reaping the harvest of some of the herbs planted this year!

Kitchen Garden

Posted on: July 30th, 2013 by
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Not to be totally out-done by Dafydd, I planted up some little containers which I had painted green earlier in the year. One of them is actually an old book shelf, which had begun to rot at the bottom, so has been recycled! (The spaces between the shelves make excellent divisions between the different herbs!).

Kitchen GardenThis is the start of my Kitchen Garden, the photo was taken just after I planted my herbs out: thyme, sage, chives, sweet cicely, marigolds, greek oregano, and rosemary, mint and parsley in smaller containers.  I also have Melissa (Lemon Balm) at the other end of the garden. These herbs are all for culinary use but of course they do have valuable medicinal uses too.

This is just the beginning though. On this slightly raised area of stream bank, I also plan to plant black currant and gooseberry bushes next spring, and maybe a couple of apple trees! After that, we will have to see where the land takes me…

Seeds of a Herb Garden

Posted on: July 23rd, 2012 by
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So, I like herbs. I should do, I’m a trainee herbalist. I also like making things with herbs – and prescribing them too. Pity with that is, you actually need a source of your materia medica… good job I also like gardening!

That there would be a herb garden at Cae Non was never in doubt – it was simply a matter of when there would be a herb garden at Cae Non. In light of this, Gillian has found what she reckons to be a good area for growing herbs and asked if I’d like to put it under the spade – well, you can imagine my reaction!

This area of land for the herb garden/beds is pretty much as good as it gets; it is near water (although I don’t suspect this will be an issue at Cae Non knowing how wet it can be), and is near enough to the Hafod to make brews, wash hands, etc. More importantly it also has a small depth of soil; we’re looking at 2-3 inches, so not much mind, but it’s a start. A tell tale sign of this is that there are briars growing where I intend to put the garden – normally a curse to gardeners, these are an indication to me that the land is of better quality as other areas (most areas) are too wet and clay ridden to support them. If they’ll take one Rosaceae, they’ll take many others of value.

So what do we have? About 30’ x 30’ of briars at the moment!Opening Up Stream 007

These are reasonably easily dealt with; an hour with the brush-cutter and they’ll be gone: The roots represent more of a challenge though!

First step will be to peel back the growth and letting some air get at the soil; turning it and preparing suitable portions for planting.

Due to the varying nature of the herbs/medicinal plants I intend to cultivate, some will go straight in: those with more sturdy tap-root systems that love going deep into clay to get at the trapped mineral-bearing layers will do fabulously here; they will also break up the alluvial clay and let bacteria in, starting to get some life into the soil and set off aerobic processes. Some of the herbs I have in mind are:

  • Symphytum spp.  Comfrey. – Medicinally useful large herb; also a source of ‘green fertiliser.
  • Arctium lappa & Rumex crispus – Burdock and Yellow Dock. – These are grand herbs that are a little too large for the average garden – they also love field-like conditions and poor soil.
  • Taraxacum officinale Dandelion – Do I really need to plant this weed? It seems like I do as it’s not present at Cae Non at the moment and would do well in the clay. Roots for medicine, Leaves for healthy salad, flowers for wine! Need I say more?

But while large plants are grand for the clay and direct planting, many of the smaller herbs I would like to plant would simply disappear or wouldn’t be able to deal with the soil. Aromatic herbs in particular like well-drained and sandy or loamy soil. What to do…?

Raised beds are an option here; many companies selling kits and pre-assembled beds. Problem is they tend to be expensive and on the small side. I also like making things myself. Having considered railway sleepers (nasty creosote and transport issues), new pine planks (expense, transport issues, short life), and other solid barriers, I’ve found myself drawn to using a woven willow structure to contain the soil and provide drainage. Willow is something we do have/have access to, and it doesn’t need to be especially thin – weaving 1/4 inch willow into walls like this would take a month of Sundays, use a lot of willow, rot quickly and generally be irritating.

So my plan is to use 2’’ diameter willow lengths (split or un-split depending on flexibility) with a semipermeable  backing such as roofing-felt or hessian sacks. This would allow me to leave ~2 inch gaps, and attaining a height of 18 inches becomes much easier.

Searching on Google gives good ideas, but many are either built using thin willow, cost a lot of money, or are too small. I like these raised beds and these willow beds as ideas.

So, a tangible goal for this summer is to clear the area of briars, plant some larger herbs directly into the soil, and erect 2 raised beds and plant with some of my herbs from home and other annuals I’d like.

Opening Up Stream 005

I might grin… it’s the manic grin of someone about to do hard work against the futility of briars!

Anyway, it’s gonna be great – I always love building gardens. The herbs may heal the body, but gardens heal the soul.

Welcome to the Herb Garden!

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?

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.