Aberystwyth Allotments

by The Curious Scribbler

Fine days have been few and far between this summer but Sunday afternoon in Penparcau proved a happy exception. The sun shone, there were unthreatening fluffy clouds,a paraglider wheeled overhead from its launch at the top of Pendinas, and at the bottom of First Avenue, many people took the opportunity to visit the allotments during the Open Afternoon in aid of the National Garden Scheme charity.

The axial path between the Aberystwyth allotments

It is more than ten years since I last came on an open day and once more was charmed by the range of gardening skills on display. At one end I found Veronica’s traditional vegetable plot bursting with rows of flourishing foodstuffs runner beans, french beans, broad beans potatoes, carrots and many more besides. A retired soil scientist, she has gardened this plot for a couple of decades, and recollects the year when floods covered the allotments, the water rising two feet and more inside her garden shed. Hers is a full sized allotment, the generous space deemed necessary in the post war days to feed a family.

Aber Allotments Veronica’s generous vegetable plot

At the other end of the axial path I found another long-established allotment with quite different use of space, largely devoted to fruit trees, elegantly lawned, with tubs of vegetables and flowers and a restful place to sit and relax at the distal end.

A tranquil oasis of fruit trees and lawns. Aber Allotments

Other allotments bristle with garden technology, raised beds, edging, hooped cloches made of alkathene pipe, fruit nets and trellises. There are several living willow structures and exuberant roses on the boundaries of many plots. And every allotment has a shed, some just tool stores while others are little home-from-homes, places to heat up a cup of tea, sit back and enjoy the peaceful scene.
In recent years, as they become vacant, some of the old allotments have been divided into two or three parts, better serving the needs of townsfolk without gardens. There is great contrast amongst these too, reflecting the owners’ enthusiasms for flowers, food or nature. One mini-allotment is dominated by a wildlife pond. Nearby I found another with two keen gardeners devoted to an amazing range of choice and exotic vegetables – Chilean Guava, several different cultivars of blueberry, grafted vegetables growing upon a gourd rootstock, unfamilar cultivars of familiar herbs and greens.

Raise beds and wood shaving paths at Aberystwyth allotments

Flowers and vegetable blend at Aberystwyth Allotments

The visit put me in mind of the allotments at Konigstein in Germany which I visited with the Cardiganshire Horticultural Society as part of a twinning visit to Kronberg in 2015. Up to half of the space in these allotments could be devoted to recreation, and many plots contained substantial chalets, dining areas, play equipment and ornamental trees, while the rest would be devoted to edibles or flowers. Many of the holders would have been flat dwellers, who spent whole days at their allotment homes. I remember how impressed we were by the feel-good ambience of these German allotments. The Aberystwyth allotments are evolving in a similar direction.

The Konigsberg allotments in Germany

A homely chalet in the Konigsberg allotments in Germany

The Konigsberg allotments in Germany

The Konigsberg allotments in Germany

The Konigsberg allotments in Germany

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Five new swallows

By The Curious Scribbler

Every year we have swallows, who build their nest just outside the kitchen door where their poo piles up inconveniently on the mat, a hazard for the unwary.  Their arrival is nonetheless eagerly welcomed, and their breeding success a matter of note.  Last year there was a tragedy.  The whole clutch died, fully fledged in the nest.  I believe this was because of two days, 25 to 26 August, in which we were continuously buffetted by ferocious gales.   I was reminded of this only yesterday when a news item about climate change included a scene of huge waves battering the seafront below Alexandra Hall.

The Aberystwyth storm of 25 August 2020

The sea breaking over Aberystwyth Jetty on 25 August 2020

Neither swallows nor insects could fly in that howling gale and I think the chicks simply perished unfed.  We wondered whether they had flown before the storm, but a couple of weeks later I inspected the nest to find four dead swallows, their tails still a little on the short side, but otherwise perfect.  The parents hung around on the electricity wires for some days, but then departed.

This spring was also unusual.  During the early spell of warm, fine weather one or two swallows appeared, scoping the house, even indulging in occasional aerial squabbles, but nothing came of it and and the nest remained unused.  They knew best perhaps,  for  that fine spell brought on all the shrubs in the garden, only to be scorched off by frost a few weeks later. There followed a May marked by its coldness and wetness, – not good conditions for feeding young. They were wise to wait.

I had pretty much given up hope when, in June, a swallow appeared, and sat singing its burbling chirrup on the wire, and before long was joined by a mate.  They patched up the old nest, and devoted their spare time to intimidating the cats by their dive bombing.   At first the chicks were pretty quiet, just a whisper of begging when the adult birds returned with beaks full of tiny insects, but over three weeks their cries become a loud cacophony breaking out almost every minute as the parents swooped in with food.  The droppings began to pile up on the mat beneath.

The hungry swallow provides an irresistible target for its harassed parent.

And on the 23 July they flew at dawn.  I woke to find them balancing precariously on the wire outside my window, and fluttering effortfully back to the roof.  By 10 am they were all back in their nest.

The exercise programme for a young swallow seems carefully calibrated by the parents.  For the rest of the day the feeding continued unabated, but the next morning the chicks were out again, for longer, tackling more demanding routes under the car port and lining up on different perches to beg for food. After a week they were out all day, and nowhere to be seen,  but would suddenly swoop down in mid afternoon, a twittering gang of five, and return to their nest on the beam, where their parents continued to feed them till dusk.

The five Swallow chicks return to the nest at bedtime

It is now day 9 since they first flew, and every evening we look out the back door to check that the five youngsters, still sporting their yellow flanges to their gape, are lined up for the night.  It wont be long now before they leave us, and I wonder whether their parents will fit in another brood before Africa beckons once more.  They sometimes do.


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To fell or not to fell?

by The Curious Scribbler

There is a good deal of consternation around the Council’s decision to fell trees on Cambridge Terrace so I went between the rain showers to investigate this quiet corner of Aberystwyth.  It is not a road but a footpath really, which sets off along the back of the houses on Queen’s Road, just after the dejected former catholic church, and runs along below the bowling greens  as far as the North Road Clinic.  Here the path swerves uphill to approach North Road.

The thirty-three Monterey Cypresses

The specifications sounded alarming:  33 Monterey Cypresses and 5 White  Poplars are for the chop, and I have heard parallels being drawn with the disgraceful sacrifice of street trees which has caused so much anguish in Sheffield.  So I was relieved to find that the 33 Monterey Cypresses are basically just an outgrown hedge.  These are not trees which like being crowded, and which when used as a hedge must be cut meticulously every year because unlike Yew they do not sprout again from old wood.  The hedge has obviously escaped the council’s care many years ago, and the result is spindly misshapen trees, which have very little visual appeal.  I think their loss is justified. Far fewer trees widely spaced could be allowed to reach the same height here but they would be far more shapely.

The poplars form a twiggy skyline when seen from North Road over the rope maze, and I understand at least one resident has objected to their invasive roots affecting his garden.

View from North Road, the poplars reach above the Holm Oaks on Cambridge Terrace.

But when I walked along this pretty path behind Queens Road I was struck by the other planting here.  There are a couple of gnarled and contorted Wych Elms ( Ulmus scabra ‘Camperdownii’) , and some small crab apple trees, but the secluded  character of  this byway is defined by the many substantial Holm oaks on either side.  This evergreen oak is a delightful town tree, most appropriate for a Victorian setting, and I am relieved to see that these will all be retained.   Already the poplars are overshadowing and their branches inter-meshing with the Holm oaks. Irrespective of the root issue, this is just too many trees in a confined space,  so I cannot oppose their loss.

looking north along Cambridge Terrace

In considering the suitability of the Holm Oak I am reminded of the landmark tree outside Plas Antaron which marks the entry to Penparcau.  This is the same tree that stood there in the 1860s and appears in a sketch in one of W.T.R. Powell of Nanteos’ famous scrap books, and records  his and his friends’ drunken return there one evening.  About 15 years ago I remember  that tree surgeons lopped off its  spreading crown, first on the road side one year, and once this re-sprouted, on the other side two years later.  It looked pretty brutal at the time but the crown re- grew to create the handsome bushy tree we see today.

The Holm oak outside Plas Antaron, Penparcau

The Cambridge Terrace Holm Oaks have the same potential, and already screen the houses from  sight from North Road.  They will flourish without the crowded competition and are a well mannered tree well suited to this location. Hedgehogs have been seen on Cambridge Terrace and probably thrive there not just on the insects and earthworms but  on the nutritious fallen acorns from these trees.

If and when the somewhat dreary rope maze is replaced by a more conspicuous or noisy recreational facility there will still be this calm canopy of dark green forming a backdrop to the former second bowling green.

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