When you have spent every penny you can lay your hands on buying 30 odd acres of land in Pembrokeshire what do you do to start making a living from it as soon as possible? That was the dilemma facing Linda and Steve when they put in a sealed bid at auction on part of the old Picton Castle Estate and found, somewhat to their surprise, that they had been successful. Half was woodland which needed taking back into management and half was pasture but there were no buildings so not only could they not live on site, they could not keep livestock easily either.
The answer they came up with was flowers. Linda had trained as a landscape architect and grower and Steve had toured as a musician teaching himself photography as he traveled the world. Both were good at using social media to promote their work. Flowers can be grown in a single year, need regular attention but not live-in care, and arranging them, which Linda is very good at, adds value. With Steve’s photographic skills to showcase the results they had the skill set they needed to make a success of the enterprise.
See more wonderful pictures on their website here
The obvious place to site a flower garden was near the hard-standing where the access track ends. But this was a bit exposed for growing. So using poles and brash from the woods they built a ‘dead hedge’; posts driven into the ground at intervals and twiggy branches roughly woven through them. That gave shelter in the short term but will slowly rot away. So either side of the ‘dead’ hedge they planted a live one. Over time the rotting wood will be replaced by the living which it will feed as it goes. The double row will make it strong and dense and if any of the shrubs fail there will not be a gap. Even the gates are works of art!
Inside this boundary are a polytunnel for propagating plants and to grow a few more delicate blooms and houses and runs for chickens, ducks and guinea fowl which are allowed out to keep slugs and other pests under control.
Weddings have proved to be the biggest part of the business. Sometimes Linda is asked to do all the arrangements and bouquets, sometimes just the trickiest bits with the families buying buckets of flowers and doing the simpler stuff themselves. The couple now have a barn designed to keep flowers cool and fresh until they can be arranged and delivered and with space to dry some for winter use. And of course it provides somewhere to store all the paraphernalia Linda needs to make her designs. These days much of the business comes from one bride recommending her to another.
And the rest of the land? Well there is a young orchard where we helped fill ‘eyelid’ swales to help the trees keep their roots moist in dry summers. I had come across the idea of swales before. They are ditches dug almost but not quite level to collect water and channel it around the site very slowly preventing it running off before plants have a chance to use it. In drier areas of the world they make the difference between being able to grow things and not. Here in West Wales where rainfall is high, the problem is more often how to get rid of water quickly without it scouring the land! However Steve and Linda had noticed that some of their land, including the orchard, drained quickly and decided that digging a short ditch uphill from each tree and filling it with large logs then smaller brash and topping it with turf would provide a ‘sponge’ that would hold water. A sort or personalised drinking trough! As the logs rot away they will feed the trees just as the dead hedge will feed the live one and when the fruit trees are well established they should be able to fend for themselves more.
A stand of Sweet chestnut trees has been planted and each year Steve brings another section of the old woodland into management. He has just learnt how to make charcoal in on old-fashioned kiln to make good use of the wood he is extracting. Unmanaged woodland rarely yields wood suitable for milling into planks and firewood is so much work to cut, chop and deliver that it makes little profit so charcoal is a better option.
The pasture is allowed to grow long and then cut for hay by a farming neighbour. He beds his sheep on it in the lambing sheds then returns it, nicely enriched with sheep dung, to be composted along with garden waste and chipped brash. The huge heaps are turned with a small JCB! Once worked most goes onto the flower beds to grow the next crop but some is diverted to a pumpkin patch where Halloween lanterns were ripening nicely when I visited!
At present Steve and Linda live in nearby Haverforwest with Linda’s young grandson who was orphaned when her daughter died tragically young. They hope to get planning permission soon to build a new home on their own land to reduce their travelling and to make charcoal burning easier – the kiln takes all day to load and then needs to be monitored closely overnight. Steve has already given a great deal of thought to the best way to design and construct it so that it is both beautiful and efficient to run!
The woodland Farm is a fantastic example of how using the principles of Permaculture it is possible to create a thriving business and make a decent livelihood from an unpromising piece of land whilst at the same time creating a haven for wildlife.