Back at Christmas mum gave me a voucher for a days gardening tuition at walled garden over by Bridgnorth in Apley, She was also coming with me, so it was a great way to spend time together (and she loves anything to do with gardening) and hopefully I'd learn lots.
I thought this was a great present but it turned out to be so much better than I thought. Apparently she'd booked the course just before they cancelled running it, but they decide to honour our places. This meant that we got a private course for just the two of us for the whole day!
|Head Gardener - Phil Allen at the entrance to the garden area|
We met the head gardener, Phil Allen, at Apley farm shop, had a drink, discussed what we wanted to learn and talk about during the day and then headed down to the walled garden. As soon as I met him I knew it was going to be a good day, he's completely passionate about what he does and it was obvious from the start that he had a wealth of knowledge and a willingness to share it.
The garden is amazing, four years ago it had been completely over grown, untouched for forty years. Now the whole four acres were under cultivation and looked after by Phil pretty much on his own. Add to that the fact that the garden is starting to make a profit and supply the farm shop and local restaurants and it gets really interesting.
I think the thing I like most was that this was a proper working model of how large scale gardening/small scale agriculture can work in the UK. Every plant or area had a purpose, a simple example was in the one poly tunnel where there was a load of Pak choi that had bolted, but this had been deliberate so a local Thai restaurant could buy it as they like to use the flowers on their dishes. The garden wasn't weed free either, and he made no excuses about this, the time isn't there for it to be like a show garden, that's not it's purpose.
|Fruit cage area - this picture showing peas growing under the cage.|
The garden was split into different areas, with roughly a quarter split off for fruit production where he single handedly picks over a hundred punnets of raspberries a week in high summer! There was also a large area where he was experimenting with a no dig method of gardening and other areas where he was trying a biodynamic approach to gardening.
In it's day there was many (and I mean many) glass houses, all with different purposes, from melon houses to ones for house plants and over 33 staff to run them and the gardens. There isn't any glass left in any of them and they're all in various stages of disrepair. Instead of letting them sit empty though, Phill has covered some of them in plastic and is using the space inside to grow many crops that either need the warmth to grow or to grow crops early to catch the best marketability for a certain crop.
|Glasshouse in use|
|A glass house not in use yet|
|Seedlings ready for potting on - well over twenty varieties of tomatoes being grown here.|
I think what I liked best about the whole garden is it's willingness to try to find a market for something different. As Phil said to me at one point in the day "We live in an area of farmers, so why is a restaurant going to buy carrots off me when he can buy them cheaper off a farmer whose growing a field of them, I have to offer something different. Baby carrots, different colours, ones grown for taste and not transport." He was offering so many different and unusual plants to restaurants, ones they couldn't get from wholesalers, so they were using him to set themselves apart as well. The one Thai restaurant had been winning awards with their food and they attribute good local produce to helping them win.
I learnt so much from the whole day that I'm still trying to digest the information that I was given, but the main feeling I've been left with is that of inspiration. I feel inspired that I could make my patch of land here make some money so I can reduce the amount of time I have to spend away from here. I've been given ideas about market areas and revenue streams that I never even considered and I think I have the energy, drive and enthusiasm to make it work.
He really embodied a "Farm better not bigger" attitude and it's one I'd love to emulate when I take back over with childcare from September, getting things in place to slowly change how I provide my income, even if it's just a tiny percentage of it to start with, and produce food for more people than just my family.
I'll do some more posts on some of the tips I learnt at a later date - the one is amazing and I can't wait to share it with you all!