Volunteering Abroad


Well that’s the end of that. Yesterday we said goodbye to the house and garden and we are nearly ready for volunteering overseas. We did a big harvest and have plenty to keep us going for a while. Laura made some chutney with the surplus green tomatoes. The carrots, parsnips and oca and some of the turnips however just were,nt ready so they will stay. I dug up the Jerusalem artichokes and Yacon which have produced some nice tubers. Plenty more has been distributed to family and friends and I know Ruth will do a great job looking after the pumpkin and hopefully eat it too.
A neighbour offered a few quid for the little demountable greenhouse so that got moved but I have left the polytunnel and dome as well as all the trees and winter veg which would,nt move well anyway.
The past month has been a very busy time, thankfully all the planning is starting to pull together and we can now enjoy a few days with family. The only plan is to take the ferry from Cork to Roscoff on Saturday and a week later begin the first of our volunteering stays with a helpx host in Normandy. The host lives on a 27 acre small holding with woodland and small lake so plenty of jobs to get busy with. On the third week we will be house sitting while our host goes on holidays. We are hoping to learn loads on this trip ,new skills like grafting trees, working with animals and living off the land generally. I’m fascinated to see the different crops being grown in various climatic regions and the variety of growing styles and techniques people use. I,m also really looking forward to learning about regional plants and animals and doing plenty of foraging. In many ways this will be our little “grand tour” made possible by organisations such as helpx and Woofing. In return for 5 to 6 hours work per day, 5 to 6 days a week you get bed and board and tonnes of learning.
The plan beyond all this is literally that there is no plan, we will see what comes our way and who we meet. There are a number of places I would like to volunteer if we are nearby, one being Plants for a future in Cornwall. They take volunteers after April and that would be amazing to see some of the 1700 edible species of plant that Ken and others have gathered at the big field. Would also love to see Martin Crawford forest garden and Sepp Holzers Krameterhoff in Austria. Anyway these are just ideas and if we don’t get to them I,m sure we will have spent our time at equally interesting projects.
To do this trip we have had to give everything up. It is like throwing cards up in the air and seeing where they land , it feels a bit mad, it feels amazing. So much could go wrong or right and who knows where we will end up. The Garden Diary entries from now on will document our experiences as volunteers on various projects abroad.

Saving Seed at Home and Huntingbrook garden Visit

Part 1 Home Garden

I,m winding down the home garden at the moment, clearing sheds and re distributing tools and equipment to friends, family and neighbours. The watering system for the tunnel was dismantled yesterday after a good soak of 20 litres /m2 this should buy some time. It’s really interesting deciding what to take and what to leave. There is still loads to eat only this time as plants are cleared the space they occupy is not being replanted. I had considered sowing a green manure inside and out but I,m thinking this might be interpreted as overgrown grass and put off prospective gardeners. Instead as plants are removed the beds are being covered with a fresh layer of rough homemade compost, its full of life. I had taught of covering this with cardboard or plastic but to be honest its purpose might be miss understood as ugly and put someone off. Instead I will leave these open to the elements where the material will be taken down over the winter and where fermented tomatoe seeds and other seeds that made it through the compost will germinate and grow next year. Thinning may be all that is required. This will give the new tenants the longest possible time to figure out how amazingly rewarding it is to be able grow vegetables and flowers.They may think they require no work at all. Thats the idea anyway.


I was delighted recently a few years after putting in the pond to see common frogs in the garden. Here is one in the greenhouse helping to balance the system naturally eating some slugs. The ducks may be gone but this fell will get the job done. Hopefully he has some friends.


With the shortening day length the Oca is starting to come on. These tubers swell in the autumn so I will leave them till the 11th hour just before heading off. We should be well laiden


That goes for the pumpkins also


The cobs at home are not that big but they do taste good.


One of the biggest jobs remaining is seed saving. I have been collecting seed in the past week such as sunflower heads, poppies,Callendula, Mallow etc.You want to save seed from the healthiest plant/s you have.


To save tomato seeds they must be fermented first to remove the germination inhibitors. I am saving 5 varieties of tomato seed at the moment. They are Brandywine, Black Cherry, Tumbler, Mexican Midge and Money Maker. The mexican midge and tumbler were grown outdoors and have done really well.Will have to make chutney as we are all tomatoed out!


To save the Tomato seed I pick the best ripe tomato from the best plant cut length ways spoon out the seeds and the goo. Put this in a clear jar, add some water if needed and cover. Leave some small holes for airflow. Place this in a warm place such as kitchen window to ferment for a few days this will remove the germination enhibitors coating the seed and they can then be separated from the goo. It does stink a bit. Allow the seed to dry fully for a week or more before storing in paper bags or plastic containers.Below Money Maker and Brandywine seeds tomatoes being selected for seed saving.





Make sure the seed is fully dry if using plastic.You will find fallen fruit fermenting and smelling naturally as they deteriorate.Slugs like this! The pic below left is a tomato that fell from the plant and is deteriorating and to the right a cluster of tomato seeds germinating in some compost. If this was early in the season you could just thin and leave what you want to grow on and provide a new crop.


Mallow seeds are easily collected once dry on the plant and placed in a paper bag. When you think about the price of seeds it makes sence to grown open pollinated varieties that allow for this.


A really easy one to save are Nasturtiams simply pick up the dried seeds and store in a paper bag till next year. You probably won’t need to save any unless your moving out or something like that as they seed like mad.


Another handy one is Coriander which can be saved when the seed has dried out on the plant but before it rots with the rains


Below are a variety of other plants going to seed in the garden. Mizuna , Onion. Basil



I put some pond water into this container a few weeks back. it contained some Elodia and Duck weed which have now covered the surface. I was thinking this could be a nice way to drown weeds such as Bindweed and just keep removing the surface growth to act as a mulch around plants or  as greens into the compost . The bind weed is like a Russian advancing.


Many of the plants are looking a bit wrecked now so plenty of clearance to be done soon.




Part 2: Visit to Jimi Blakes Huntingbrook Gardens

On sunday I headed along to an open day up at Huntingbrook Gardens. It’s a very impressive place even though my main focus has been edible plants rather than ornamentals. The picture below is of the flower borders along the curving ramped walkway which leads up to the cabin.


I drew a little map of how I remember the site and its main elements.

No.1 Flower Border

No.2 Flower Border

No.3 Main flower island

No.4 Dahlias

No. 5 Greenhouses and propagation area

No 6. Cabin/ workshop space

No.7 Deep shaded woodland

No.8 Meadow

No. Parking

No. 10 Specimen trees

No 11. Return walk through woodland

No. 12  Forest with Larch

jimi blakes garden

I particularly enjoyed the sence of discovery walking around the gardens. As you come through the gates you get a glimpse of the wooden cabin up to your right but are then redirected to the left for parking. The approach to the house is not direct but rather up a wide curving gravel path with high banks of planted colour to left and right.The layout is clearly influenced by classical design ideas. Curving around at the top to face south ish, you are presented with the narrow end of the main island bed within the garden. Jimi later in the day spoke of how he retains views across  deep planting by using spire like plants that let light and views through especially from 3 feet and above.

Neatly tucked away but at a convenient distance the greenhouse and potting sheds are located this is screened from the flower garden both of which resemble forest coups or clearings (No 5).

Around the cabin with its East facing veranda is a rap around lawned area with some specimen acers to the East. To the south side of the cabin a small vegetable garden in terraces provides herbs and fresh veg. The veg would,nt be the main focus of this garden. Beyond the lawned area to the south one passes under a living willow pergola and suddenly you enter a woodland. The woodland becomes darker as one winds their way down a steep sided riven running East / West. The odd chair is possitioned along the route where the gardener / walker can rest and take in the wonderful surroundings. There are many introduced woodland species of plant to enjoy along the route. I spotted a few muchrooms including the Yellow Stagshorn (Calocera viscosa) Bay Bolete, and the  Xlaria polymorpha ( Dead mans fingers ) in the pic. It looks a bit like frostbitten fingers belonging to some poor fellow crushed by the fallen log. They are saprobes growing from the decaying wood aiding its breakdown.


At the bottom of the deep cut a surreal banquet table of roundwood logs awaited and then the ascent into the light where you suddenly pop out and are in a meadow. A path then leads down hill as the field opens out and then you move back into the woods to return to the flower garden. There is a great diversity of habitats on this little site and the journey through the gardens has been well considered.

Later on in the day Jimi spoke of his top 25 plants for the month while we gathered around the main island bed (no. 3 on the diagram.) I was delighted to hear about the gardens environmental approach namely the use of compost and woodchips and an emphasis on single flowering species. One interesting tip Jimi spoke about was planting dark coloured carrots like one would a bulb for over the winter. These will flower the following year and look great. Must try this! Jimi is into Salvias at the moment and recommended Salvia microphylla ‘Joy’ available in Johnstown Garden Centre.

The talk then moved down the slopes of the ramp with its wonderful borders see pic below, to the entrance where a number of as yet unnamed Dahlias were in flower. When then moved to the lawn where we looked at a number of specimen Acer, Magnolia , Bamboo and Rhododendron. Another of Jimis tips for pruning Acers was to do so in the summer as they will leak if pruned early. Think Maple syrup and Birch tapping.  The plant of the day was Dahlia Australis


Border at Huntingbrook