The Forge & Garden

Documenting the progress of our home

Heading into February

Still not a huge amount to do other than continue to clear out dead growth and uncover bulbs.

It’s giving me time to puzzle on a few challenges. And to want to buy too much.


We can’t walk on half the lawn for fear of stepping on them. That’s not a complaint really.

Every time you move a pile of leaves, you find more clumps.

Snowdrops outside the kitchen window

The recent cold snap put a pause on things, but it’s warming up again things are on fast forward again.

The display with aconites is especially gorgeous, and barely getting starting.


Like the snowdrops, they are coming up everywhere now. Red, pink, white and two pale green ones.

Most are still in the slow process of opening, but these two are early bloomers.

Dark pink hellebore in the sunshine
Pink speckled hellebore

Three puzzles

Puzzle 1: Why plant one thing when you can plant five? This photo illustrates the challenge.

Three box bushes practically on top of each other, a hydrangea (inside the fence) and other small trees in front and to the side/foreground. Too much in one place. You lose the view of the other side of the stream and the stream itself. Nothing else can grow.

I need to figure out what needs to come out, what needs to be replaced with something else to stabilise the bank and what just needs to come out.

Repeat around the whole garden.

Puzzle 2: what can I plant in the bank of the stream that creates interest and stabilises the soil?

Right now the banks don’t have much on them, other than dead weeds from last summer. I’ve cleared what I can from above. I’m going to need to get hipwaders to clear the rest from the stream itself.

One of the life-projects of this property is how we can play our part in restoring some life to the stream.

Puzzle 3: turning this area down by the stream into a sitting space. It’s a little sun trap now, but I suspect when all the trees get their leaves back, it will be a lovely spot in the hot summer. And the view up the stream is a delight.

Winter suntrap spot

What I’m buying and reading

Can’t do much outside, so for once, I’m prepping and buying things I want now. I usually leave it too late and either things have gone out of stock or I have a limited choice.

Plant purchases

Okay, time to fess up on what I’ve already bought.

I’ve pre-ordered some things from Farmer Gracy. Gardening crack. I cannot resist things from here.

Lily of the Valley pips for under the cherry tree at the front of the house

Dahlias. Those who know me will be amazed that I’ve limited myself to only six tubers.

Hosta. So far just one. But I’ve got a very VERY big shady area.

I need to finish pre-ordering 2 sets of sweet peas from Sarah Raven. Cheating this year.

And two roses from David Austin. Climbers for the front of the house. One orange, one apricot.

Gardening kit

I’ve decided that I should probably figure out more about the soil in this garden, moisture levels, pH levels, sun levels. So I’ve bought a sensor to do all that.

I can’t keep sticking my garden shears in my pockets, I’m going to hurt myself one of these days. Plus I need to put more things in my pockets and we all know much room women get in pockets…

Time for an apron with POCKETS.

What I’m reading

Treated myself to Beth Chatto’s Shade Garden which I think is going to become by bible for this garden.

I’m hoovering up ideas from magazines as well:

  • Gardens Illustrated
  • The English Gardener
  • Modern Gardens

January in the garden

In many ways, not exactly the best time of year to get to know your new garden. There’s not much to do, most things are in stasis, waiting. The leaves have dropped, perennials have died back, the chance for identifying things is gone for now. It’s a waiting game.

But dig under the surface a little bit (well, more like move leaves and the rotted leaves from the cold snap), and you’ll find signs of life.

So I donned my new gardening gloves that I had as a gift for Christmas and headed out to do some winter tidying – thinning the hedge and pleaching, raking leaves and cutting back properly dead stuff.

A small aside on the gloves, I have two challenges with gloves. I have stupidly small hands. Child sized. And I’ve yet to find a gardening glove that keeps my hands entirely dry (and warm). Until I got these babies. Farmer endorsed.

The BEST gardening gloves I’ve ever found.

They are 100% waterproof, lined and insulated with fleece and they fit my tiny lady hands. A whole day wearing these and I did not get wet or feel even a tingle of cold.

Signs of life

Rake the leaves back and you’ll find the first signs of crocus and snowdrops poking through. Their emergence keeps me going through this worst of winter months.

And this garden has not skimped on early spring bulbs.

The whole lawn has things poking through. Literally everywhere. I’m desperately trying not to step on the lawn anywhere at the moment.

As yet unidentified bulbs.

And not just in the lawn but in all the beds, under all the trees, all the shrubs, along the hedge, along the shed. In the raised beds. In pots.


The other thing this garden has in abundance is hellebores. And it being January, the new growth is coming out. Last year’s hadn’t been cut back so I cut them all back in the front garden and back. That’s how I know just how many there are.

Leaves and old hellebore growth
Emerging hellebores

And you never know what you’ll find when you clear stuff out.

I found these three old horseshoes, a sign of what this house used to be.

Three horseshoes

And the final abundance is cyclamen. And how glorious are they as they emerge from the ground?

Coils of cyclamen

Winter garden waste

Helpfully (not), Monmouthshire stops collecting garden waste between December and March. And there isn’t much space, how things are laid out now, for a leaf pile or a compost space. So what to do with buckets of leaves and cut back, rotted stuff?

We’re using it to bulk out the base of the hedge, build it up where it’s low and mulch it. Also great for wildlife.

We’ve got ivy, bamboo and bramble waste that we’ll burn outside on a clear, dry day. Don’t want to risk any of that taking hold in the hedge.

What’s next?

Frustratingly, despite the unseasonal warm weather we’re having, winter isn’t over. Next week isn’t going to be spring. There’s not a whole lot to do outside at this time of winter.

On decent days we can still do a few things outside:

  • work on the hedge: thinning and pleaching. Planting in-fill.
  • hack away at several patches of ivy that are damaging a wall and growing up the side of the house
  • plant bare-root roses

But the main thing for these hideously wet winter days is to stay inside and plan.

I have to balance my urge to plant and change things this year with waiting to see what is already there. Where can I make an impact without disturbing things or making too violent of changes?

I’m giving myself a number of raised beds to change. Three which should be for veg which currently have raspberry canes, shrubs and other non-vegetable things in them. I won’t be touching non-raised beds this year.

What do I need to buy to be ready to plant? My current list looks like:

  • dahlia tubers
  • sweet peas
  • vegetable seeds
  • roses
  • maybe some hostas for pots…

Must fight all urges to get carried away….I need to see what unexpected surprises this garden has in store for me.

And I’ll keep checking outside to watch the bulbs emerge from the ground this month.

The Forge gardens

We moved in to the house in late October, the focus was on the house, getting settled and back to work and hosting my mom who was also moving to Wales. And the Welsh rain started. So no real chance to get into the garden. But I’ve got a couple of photos of the back garden and across the stream to the our neighbours woodland garden in all it’s autumn glory.

What’s in it?

A lot. It’s a deceptively big garden. It’s quite mature. It’s also very damp. It rains a lot here. But it’s got a bit of everything. A long hedge, lawn, trees, shrubs, raised beds, sun, partial sun, deep shade, a stream, slopes, birds galore and moles.

It’s still a life’s worth of work and love.

It’s a very winter and spring focussed garden, not something I’m used to.

Lots of trees and mostly shrubbery. I’m not a big shrub person so this is an adjustment I need to make. Some will stay in the long run, but I will change quite a bit over time. I’m more of a flower gardener.

The Hedge

We live on a single track lane that’s in a pretty poor state. A portion of it floods regularly, partly because of the stream and partly because just after us, the lane is vertical and when it rains, it turns into not one, but two streams flowing down.

One side of the garden borders the lane and as such is bordered by a thick hedge. It’s got a great variety of things in it:

  • a variegated holly tree
  • a standard holly bush
  • wild rose
  • pyroacantha
  • black thorn
  • ivy
  • and probably beech

The height gets lopped off regularly by one of the local farmers. But it’s been allowed to bulk out into the garden too much. It’s about a foot too thick now and as such has gone quite gappy in places.

One job we’ve started is thinning it out. In some places we can pleach the hedge and in others we’re just having to cut stuff out where it is dead and rotten. We’re getting a sense of where we need to plant in more native species to thicken it out. I’m looking forward to a trip to a nearby garden centre that specialises in local hedge species.

Hedges are so vital to encouraging birds, wildlife and biodiversity. I found this old nest when we were thinning the hedge. Don’t worry, it’s old and abandoned now.

abandoned bird nest

The Back Garden

I was also lucky enough to have some time with the previous owner and get a walk through of what is where in the garden (not that I can remember it now, really must learn to make better notes!). she also left me a bag full of labels of things that have been planted, bulbs, shrubs, perennials, trees. Still working through that to match things up.

What I’ve identified so far:

  • Helebores everywhere. EVERYWHERE.
  • 2 cotoneaster trees
  • mahonia
  • a variety of pyrocantha
  • roses
  • several clematis
  • endless ferns
  • viburnum
  • a small acer
  • a Norwegian acer (copper red)
  • Osmanthus
  • 2x choisya
  • grape vines
  • raspberry canes
  • Sambucus nigra
  • forysythia
  • Cotinus “Royal Purple”
  • Sarcococca
  • a number of honeysuckles
  • quite a number of cornus

The perennials were pretty much done by the time we moved in, so that will be a surprise. As will be spring bulbs. More on that in the next post…

The back garden in autumn. Our stream is below all the shrubs in the middle of the photo.
The view from the deck. Again, the stream is just in front of the blood red acer, which belongs to our neighbours though we get the best view of it.

And a current view of the whole back garden – best I can do through three panes of glass from upstairs. Our land stops at the blue fence.

And a final view of the shade bed in front of the extension to the house.

The evergreen tree on the side of the house is a photinia. One of my least favourite shrubs. Resisting the strong urge to hack it down.

The front garden

The front garden gets the most sun but at the moment has the least growing space (or does it?).

There’s a raised bed as you come in the gate/drive.

There’s little beds dotted along the front of the house. Planning to use these to grow herbs, the kitchen is just inside the big double glass doors. And to grow things up the house. I’ve got about 20 browser tabs open right now trying to find the right colour climbing English rose. Yellow or orange.

And then there is this beauty. Ngl, this tree is one of the many reasons I fell in love with this house. It’s a very mature ornamental cherry. Double pink blossoms. Literally the ornamental tree of my dreams. To say I’m excited for spring is an understatement.

There’s a couple of other smaller raised beds towards the back wall and on the side facing the house.

The bed under the tree has daffodils or snowdrops or something coming up. But a lot of what appears to be nothing so I’m thinking a big bed of Lily of the Valley.

You can also see the cooping wheel in this photo.

“Down below”

You can see a gap in the stone wall just the back right corner of the photo above. This is one of the ways down to the “lower garden”. Not sure what else to call it. And not sure what to do with it.

A big section is fallow right now. Bamboo. Neighbours. Enough said. Looking forward to the work being done to take it out so we can do something with that area.

Then things run across the stream, between the studio and the stream. Lots of willow, lots more shrubs. And SLOPE.

The path between the lawned garden and the studio

After the studio, there’s a stone path that runs back up another slope to the main garden/lawn area (see back garden).

At the back of the back garden, if you walk as if to go out the back gate, you’ll see another stone back that leads down towards the stream and an area that’s been sort of terraced but needs a lot of work. The boards holding the slope are rotting. There’s some bramble. There’s a lot of old tree stumps. It’s very shady and wet.

The shady area down by the stream

I have half formed thoughts in my head of levelling things out a little bit and making a lovely sitting area down near the stream in the shade for those now too normal baking hot days we have in summer.

Oh and there is a huge sedum roof on the studio that counts too.

Sedum roof

The Stream

Have I mentioned the stream? Yes, we have a stream (well part of a stream) that forms another border to our house/land.

We had two sets of neighbours over at Christmas. I was hearing about a kingfisher sighting. Eels and a fish spotting as well. But the stream isn’t the healthiest at the moment.

It’s a year round stream and turns red in the rain when soil leaches down from farmers fields further upstream. There’s some very bad land management going on up there….

So it’s full of silt.

It’s eroding the banks on our side quite badly in a few places. But the joy of having a father-in-law who is a hydrologist… He has plans for how we can better manage the flow, widen it, slow it down in places. We’re going to have to shore up the banks in a few places.

Welcome to The Forge

As its name suggests, this house used to be a blacksmith’s forge and workshop. And not just any blacksmiths, but that of Lord Llangattock aka the Rolls Family aka Rolls-Royce.

Here it is in 1904. They’re working on the track for Charles Rolls‘ patent weight-assisted aeroplane launcher.

We believe the building has been here since the mid-1800s. Not much of the view of the front of the house has changed – all the front windows and front door are still there, but the chimney stack is gone from the forge itself.

There’s still lots of signs of its industrial past. Inside the house you can see original blacksmithing tools hanging in what is now the fireplace. 

One of the front windows has a doodle on it – we like to think this is from a bored apprentice.

There are three rings at the back of the kitchen/pantry where horses would have been tied when being reshoed.

The beams in the kitchen have holes in them from where the shoes for each horse were hung. 

The lock on our bedroom feels like it kept valuable materials safe inside. And a gorgeous little panel of painted glass.

Outside, in the front garden is a hooping wheel. And we’ve found a number of old rusty horse shoes while clearing the front garden.

In the 1980s it was converted into a studio and later into a house and extended with a small, modern extension and a rather large studio built just below the house, looking to the stream and woodlands. 

This is what it looked like from the front when it went up for sale in the late 1990s. 

We’re now the third owner of The Forge as a house and this is what it looks like now. 

We’re in a conservation area so not much external change is allowed (though I’m itching a change in colour schemes). Our focus is going to be on the inside which is in need of modernising and updating and our stamp putting on it.

We won’t be increasing the footprint of the house or studio but working with an architect to make better use of the space we have. 

The next post will cover the garden and its current state in deepest, muddy winter. 

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