Thursday, 18 December 2014

A Land of Lost Content...?

Posted by Richard Neale
Those happy highways where we went.... The magical garden of Plas yn Rhiw, on the Llyn Penisnula
I always love visiting Plas yn Rhiw, the charming manor and garden that lies in wooded seclusion overlooking the great sweep of Porth Neigwl or Hell’s Mouth Bay on the Llŷn peninsula. I guess that most people who visit this, our most remote Welsh coastal property, fall under its spell within minutes of arriving. 

But to me, a visit has a double significance: I was lucky enough to work here for four years in my youth and, as the Welsh poet T. H. Parry-Williams remarked in Bro, one of his most well-known poems, Mae darnau ohonof ar wasgar hyd y fro. (There are fragments of me scattered about the place).

One of my tasks back then was to walk up through the woods to check the rather rudimentary water-supply in a fenced-off corner of a scrubby two-acre field. There was no reason for the few visitors who found their way to Plas yn Rhiw in those days to follow the mossy stone-walled cart-track through the woods to the field. It was just an ordinary field. Dotted with a few sheep and visited once in a while by the farmer, and me.

I suppose there’s a tendency to think as you get older that things were better in the old days. But the story of this field is a happy exception to that belief. Once it was the source of just spring water, now, thanks to the imagination of my successors, it’s the fount that provides a whole range of benefits to the area.

Two years ago pupils from the local primary school were invited to help plant an orchard here, under the expert eye of our gardener, Llifon Jones. A few weeks later, with 134 trees planted neatly in widely-spaced rows, local apple specialist and tree supplier Ian Sturrock visited and said that, with 32 Welsh varieties, this may be the biggest collection of its type anywhere. 

Inspecting the young apple trees, surrounded by a meadow buzzing with life
I recently met up with Llifon to see how the project was progressing. He told me that he’ll never forget the feeling of finding his first apple, growing on an Afal Enlli, Bardsey Apple. By now they can be collected by the sack-full and apple days are being planned where the community and visitors can press their own juice. They’ve already held a successful training event for local residents to learn how to prune their own trees. 

But it’s not been trouble-free. Llifon’s worst memory of the project came a few months ago when a herd of cattle got into the orchard. “It was such a shock” he said. “Many of the trees had been browsed and I was convinced that they would all die. Amazingly it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because they’ve sprouted new growth and look better than ever!”

Knowing that you get more fruit if you have plenty of bees to pollinate, Llifon approached the local apiarist, John Rhys Jones. The first beehive was placed in the orchard this spring and there are plans to capture swarms of wild bees that by tradition have always nested in the eaves at Plas yn Rhiw. John can then increase the number of hives and eventually supply truly local honey for the shop.

Another, unexpected benefit has been to the wildlife: the meadow has become exceptionally rich in wild flowers, with over a hundred common spotted orchids and numerous species of insect and butterfly thriving amongst the trees. 

After mowing in late summer, sheep will graze the meadow through the autumn – adding yet another benefit to the seemingly never-ending list of uses that this extraordinary field provides.

Plas yn Rhiw holds Snowdrop Days in late January or February.  Visit for more information.

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