I’m not sure if you remember or not but last Christmas I decided to try and make all my gifts, support smaller businesses or buy experiences instead. For both my parents I wanted to give them time and an experience they’ll remember forever. Since most of my spare time is either spent on the allotment or travelling back and forth to Wales I’m spending less time with my parents which makes me a little sad because I get on so well with them. Anyway, this weekend my Dad’s Christmas/Birthday gift was spent at the one and only River Cottage HQ in Axminster!
It took us around 1 hour 40 minutes to drive there and we arrived just in time to get the 9.30am tractor ride down to the farm. I’ll never forget coming round the corner and seeing that famous cottage and gardens nestled down in the valley, it was such a beautiful sight. We had tea, coffee and a delicious breakfast treat in the barn where we sat and chatted about the day ahead. The head gardener Helen Musgrave was really lovely and she took us outside to show us the compost bins whilst giving us lots of handy tips.
Next was a tour of the gardens and they didn’t disappoint! She showed us round, talked us through what was growing and what will be planted here and we nibbled on kale seed heads and borage flowers. They have 4 rotational beds, a perennial vegetable bed and a flower bed for the bees. Then there’s blackcurrants along the wall, trained fruit trees line the pathways and the most beautiful tulip trough in the centre with a mulberry tree planted in the middle.
We headed out the back garden gate to look round the fruit area and I marvelled at the amount of rhubarb plants lined down the wall as well as the cordon pear trees, it looked so perfect! There were beds of strawberries, red currants, gooseberries and yellow raspberries (apparently the birds don’t touch this variety) and none of them were netted. This is where I picked up my favourite tip of the day! Helen suggested to train gooseberries in a cordon, so instead of a large globe bush the gooseberries will grow up a straight 6ft stem and be much easier to pick…. what a great idea right?! I’ll be changing my fruit cage around this coming Winter to try this out and I’m so excited about it. She said an established bush should be easy enough to train, simply pick the biggest and most appropriate stem to start training and try it. If it all goes wrong then I can always buy new goose berries and start a fresh, in fact I’ll need to buy a few more anyway because I’ll be able to fit more in growing them upright!
Next we had a look around the orchard which was having a bit of a re-haul and some tender love and care. We passed the small flock of sheep, said hello to the cows and headed back into the barn to a cooking demo about pickling beetroot, making carrot humus and how to ferment your vegetables. For lunch we were served a selection of pickled veg, coleslaw, pulled pork and fried purple sprouting broccoli with pumpkin seeds and celeriac… I’ll be honest and say this wasn’t really my cup of tea plus I already had a upset stomach left over from being ill the day before so I didn’t eat much of that course. The dessert on the other hand was just up my street and it was delicious! Orange ice cream, meringue and rhubarb with edible flowers too.
After lunch we all headed back outside to have a tour of the polytunnels, it was really interesting to see how they grow young seedlings and again I came away with lots of ideas and the need for a huge polytunnel! Helen talked about the new no dig beds they were installing at the back of the farm and showed us where the new pigs will be living. Into another large polytunnel to tuck into mustard leaves before sowing our own seeds to take home with us. I sowed a tray of mustard and my Dad sowed some beetroot. Then we walked back to the barn to end our course with a cup of tea and another talk about planning the year out, Helen gave us her spreadsheet as an example which was really helpful. Before heading back to the tractor trailer we had 20 minutes to walk around by ourselves and take some photos, which of course I probably took way too many! At 5pm we were back at the car and ready to start our journey home, our heads full of new ideas and inspiration.
It was such a lovely day and luckily for us the weather was good, a little chilly but dry and bright. The ‘Get Growing’ course is the only garden related course on the farm and I must admit it was a little basic, of course it’s perfect if you are a complete beginner and the entire day is planned out so well. Even though we’ve been gardening for 5/7 years we still came away with some new ideas and it was just so great to be able to see the farm in real life. It was amazing to see how they do things and to see growing your own on a slightly larger scale too. I sure came away with some big ideas of my own…
The only downside from today was now I have seed planted in my head and the dream to have my own farm setting just like this one with a large garden, orchard, pigs, chickens, sheep and a thriving business to boot! One day maybe?