The Orange Tip

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Tag: fire

Fires, Hedgehogs and Food

Nothing beats a clearance fire. There’s an area of the woodland that I keep open in order to burn through non-compostables and invasive weeds destined for an inglorious disposal. In the weeks leading up to the recent garden opening (last Sunday) I’d amassed an enormous stack of sycamore limbs and bindweed, having cleared through the garden, and celebrated the end of a frantic month by setting them alight!

When burning material that’s been stacked and left for some time it’s always important to consider what may have set up home in the interim. Frogs, mice and even hedgehogs are among many unfortunate fatalities of domestic garden bonfires. In fact the Autumn garden-clearance fire has played a large part in the diminishing of hedgehogs numbers in particular; the damp and protective mass of leaves and cuttings being an ideal place for hibernation. So it’s good, especially when burning through a very large stack, to light an initial smaller fire to one side and add the rest bit by bit, allowing creatures to either make their way out or to be revealed in time and moved to a better place.


Another important consideration when burning cleared wood is that of distributing dead wood. No matter how large or small the garden, dead wood is essential for it’s ecological development and diversity. I try to strike a balance between the amount I burn and the amount I scatter; under shrubs, the bases of trees or just along the pathways.

As the bulk burned through I buried a couple of potatoes wrapped in foil in the ash (as is bonfire custom), stuffed with chives and butter. When they were ready, an hour or so later, we ate them by the fire in the dark. A field mouse came out from the undergrowth and moved around us on the hunt for some food.

Homestead Revisited

With the four days of our long Jubilee weekend in hand I made for the hills of Carmarthenshire, along with nearest and dearest, to stay with my parents. They live off the winding path of the river Towy, at the base of the valley in South, West Wales. The setting is beautiful, saturated (literally) in green, and is where I spent a year learning how to be a gardener, and building my first garden.

Although the cottage had been our family holiday camp for over a decade, it was only then being extended into the full house it is now, and so fresh out of University, with debts and a degree, I came home and got stuck into the exterior. During the build, which essentially saw the house gutted out and put back together, the surrounding garden was flattened and spread to mud. Deciding that gardening sounded like a ‘sensible’ career move, I took up a course at the Royal Botanical Gardens of Wales (conveniently a half hour’s cycle up the road) and spent any remaining time having a go at creating a new garden for my parents.

It was also very much an open book in terms of design, and is therefore full of mistakes and first attempts; it was a great experience and an opportunity to smash things together, on a relatively small scale, learning in the process. My uncle showed me the basics of cement and concrete mixing, so I began with a wall, and things went from there, ideas slowly forming into a vague structure.

back in December, 2008

Three years on and it’s great to see how the little garden has settled. The initial perennial planting now dominates, while shrubs are still just getting established. The climbers are making their way up and the stone is dulling into deeper greens and purples. I love returning to see it whenever I can, and be reminded of all my naive and simple ideas, carved out while getting to grips with a new and daunting medium. The place will always feel more special than any other garden I live or work in, in the same way, I would imagine, that every first garden experiment is to a gardener. And although it’s in very good and capable hands (who have done lots more too, I should add)  I can’t stop myself getting out the spade and fussing over it a little whenever I come home.

An ambitious example of my then newly attained wall-constructing experience was to put a fire place into the far corner of the decked area in the right angle of the wall. The idea was for it to be used for bbq’s and general fires for long Summer evenings. It’s definitely a fire hazard, and will most likely be the undoing of the decking, but we put it to good use during the one warm evening of the weekend.