Ground Control June 30, 2016 13:00

When we bought our property ten years ago we inherited a beautiful if rather neglected garden, with vast tracts of ground elder included.  In the early days we weren’t as purist as we are now, and would happily spray the ground elder away, but that is no longer a practise we are comfortable with.  The fact that the area we needed to clear runs along the banks of the River Marden made it even more important that the methods used to clear the ground elder were truly organic.


My husband Ed happened to listen to a Gardener’s Question Time discussion on the ban of weedkillers, and the solution presented itself – pigs.  Never one to turn down the opportunity of more animals, I went straight round the corner to Buttle Farm, to ask if we could borrow some pigs.  The Buttles’ rare breed Berkshire sow ‘Eyelashes’ was in pig, and due to give birth (or farrow) the following week.  We got the call, and visited the seven newborn piglets the next day.  Eight weeks later we took delivery of the three sows, duly named Daisy, Dandelion and Delilah, who were ready to be weaned.

A pig ark, electric fencing and troughs were installed, but to start with the piglets were more interested by their pig nuts than they were by the tasty looking shoots of ground elder emerging from the ground.  However they are now doing a great job of rooting up all the plants, and creating one enormous fertilised mudbath.

Stella Rankin of Kevock Garden Plants is following the progress of the plot, and we are looking forward to another visit from her next year to choose our final selection of Candelabra Primulas (her stand won a gold medal at RHS Chelsea again this year).  These bright, beautiful moisture-loving plants should thrive along the boggy banks of the river, and I am very excited about offering them as a cut flower.  The only question will be where to put the pigs – which may not be quite so appealing as pets when they reach their full weight of 170kg!  Thankfully Buttle Farm is willing to take them back to breed from.


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THE EXECUTION OF THE ARCH December 04, 2015 21:23

On the morning of Lucy Auge’s Private View for 500 Flowers I fought my way through the throng of Bath Christmas Market to the 44AD Gallery.  To the fascination of the passers-by I unloaded vast bundles of freshly cut foliage, larch branches, logs, ladders, secateurs and twine.

First to be put in place were the two large logs, sourced from a fallen tree here in West Wiltshire.  With the bark left to on to keep the look natural, we simply drilled three large holes in each, and inserted in to them long lengths of coppiced hazel.  These were then firmly secured with small wedges at the base, so they would provide a rigid foundation for the rest of the arch.  A dense covering of damp moss disguised the workings and gave the arch a platform from which to grow.

Branches of larch, replete with cones, were then individually tied on to the hazel sub-structure with my favourite Nutscene twine.  We have a number of beautiful larch trees, and I carefully harvest some of their lower branches during the winter months – much easier than when they are in leaf as the needles disguise the cones, and are fiddly to remove.

It was important to make sure that the larch branches on the sides of the arch faced outwards, so that they didn’t snag on visitors as they came in and out of the exhibition.  The longest branches were saved for the top of the arch, where they faced in to each other and were almost invisibly attached together to form the apex.  Longer lengths of twine were tied to the carved limestone capitals on either side of the doorway to provide extra support.

Shorter lengths of an evergreen Spanish oak were then inserted, and carefully tied in, starting at the base on each side and working their way up towards the top of the doorway.  Continuously standing back and observing the shape of the arch was crucial, in order to keep the symmetry and weight of the structure in balance.  It was tempting to carry on adding more and more greenery, but I wanted the arch to echo the sparse, pure lines of Lucy’s drawings, and held back.

No lights, no glitter, no sparkle - just natural, foraged branches woven together to form a woodland gateway to the exhibition within.

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LUCY AUGE and BAYNTUN FLOWERS November 20, 2015 19:57

Lucy Auge has spent many hours over the past few months drawing flowers from life in our cutting gardens for her forthcoming exhibition ‘500 flowers’, showing in the 44AD Gallery Space in Bath next week.

Lucy has a passion for nature evident in her choice of flowers, and tended to gravitate towards the less obvious, less showy ones I grow here.  She captured them in calligraphy ink in one take, each one a first attempt demonstrating free, unedited creativity.

It was very calming to watch her at work at intervals throughout the late summer and early autumn, tucked away in quite corners of the garden observing the flowers in minute detail.  I grow many different varieties of the same species – dozens of dahlias, several different zinnias and a handful of echinaceas - and Lucy managed to depict the subtle differences between all the plants she drew.

When she showed me her sheaf of drawings at the end of each visit they were reminiscent of the mellowed pages of old herbals, with the specimens seeming to grow out of the pages.  I look forward to seeing them hung in series at her exhibition, some of them a record of the time she spent here at Bayntun Flowers. 

On completion of her final drawing we decided to create a woodland arch to welcome visitors to the gallery.   I have been gathering bare branches, cones and autumnal foliage ready for the installation of the arch on Monday, and I hope it will be a fitting complement to the spellbinding works within.


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The march of the Alliums July 06, 2015 09:00

I have become rather tired of seeing alliums rearing their showy heads in herbaceous borders, where they have become ubiquitous over the last few years.  They have all too obviously been planted for the instant structure they provide, and for the nod to current fashion they are making.  As a cutting flower however, they provide infinite possibilities.

We planted 1000 bulbs in 8 varieties in our new flower field last autumn, each chosen for their contrasting height, colour and flower heads.  All are hardy and prefer to be planted in full sun, sheltered from the wind and not over fed with manure.  The field proved the ideal planting environment and although I haven’t done a count I don’t seem to have suffered any losses mouse-related or other. 

As the tulips began to fade in May the alliums started their march across the soil,  each type huddled together as a different battalion, distinct in their uniform and their purpose. 

The first to flower were the tall and elegant A. multibulbosum nigrum, their compact white heads immediately ablaze with bees.  These proved one of the most useful of the alliums to include in bunches, for both their height and the fact that their relatively small head size means they can be clumped together in groups – more so than their neighbour A. white giant, which proved quite ungainly.

The purples followed, the deep violet A. spider first (a cross between A. schubertii and A. atropurpureum) succeeded by the herbaceous border favourite A. aflatunense purple sensation.  I probably won’t dig this row up at the end of the summer, but I won’t be planting any more.  Perhaps I am just bored with seeing it in too many gardens, but I do find that its dense, football shaped heads lack subtlety and don’t suit my tapestry style of arranging.

The true stars were the last to flower, and how starry they were. A. christophii, or Star of Persia, has an umbel (flower head) of 8 – 10 inches across, loosely formed but with large individual flowers.  It is fabulous both as a freshly cut flower and dried in wreathes or garlands.  A. schubertii, probably the most ornamental of onions, is even bigger than the christophii, and has ridiculously stubby stems in order to support the weight of the head.  I often have one or two of these at the base of a huge hand-tied bunch, but most are left in the field to feed the bees before being harvested and dried.

I will appreciate the alliums all over again during the winter months.  I will craft new creations out of their skeletal forms, some sprayed in an antique gold and others left bare as nature intended.

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