• In pictures: The American Museum & Gardens

    It’s not often we get chance to mooch around a world class garden on our own doorstep, but our neighbours* at the American Museum & Gardens have just undergone a rather swish garden facelift and recently invited us to come over for a gander. The garden has been designed by Washington DC-based landscape architects Oehme, van Sweden and is the group’s first European commission. Notable previous commissions of theirs include The Garden of Contrast at Cornerstone Sonoma, The Native Plant Garden at the New York Botanical Garden and the Chicago Botanical Garden, all of which are characterised by bold, naturalistic swathes of grasses and perennials. Check out OvS’s rather impressive portfolio, here.

    The 30 acres of undulating landscape that surround the American Museum still house the remnants of the old Italianate style manorial pleasure gardens, which dates from the 1820’s. Since the museum’s opening in 1961, the landscape has been dug, prodded and sculpted into its current form which features a replica of George Washington’s Mount Vernon Garden, an arboretum of American trees and a natural amphitheatre.

    OvS’s design for the New American Garden takes inspiration from Monticello’s Winding Walk, and is designed to link the Manor House and the existing Mount Vernon Garden and to provide accessible routes to facilities across the museums hillside location.**

    Here’s a few pics from our visit. Please excuse the slate grey skies and raindrops on the lens – for our visit, the weather was more akin to Weston-Super-Mare than West Virginia.

    Views towards the Manor House, from the East Lawn. Over 12,00 new plants were used in the scheme. They include large swathes of Agastache, Dahlia, Panicum virgatum ‘Warrior’ (mixed with Eryngium agavifolium) and Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’.



    The Mount Vernon garden. There are plans afoot to create a new vegetable bed to include heritage varieties of potatoes, beans and asparagus. To prepare the bed and to help break up the soil, over 140 ‘Jack o lantern’ pumpkins have been planted. Also note the (out of focus) eighteenth century octagonal seed house. Recently renovated, it sports a cedar shingle roof and wooden cladding which has been made to look like stone – a process George Washington referred to as ‘rustification’.


    Bath’s American Museum & Gardens was first opened to the public 1961, and is the only museum outside the United States to showcase the decorative arts of America. Its permanent collection includes more than 200 historic American quilts, Shaker furniture, Native American artefacts and a huge collection of American folk art.


    Christmas opening times are:
    22 November – 16 December
    Tuesday to Sunday 11am – 4pm
    Closed on Mondays.

    Prices for admission to the Museum, gardens and exhibitions are as follows:

    Adults £14.00 (with gift aid) £12.50 (without gift aid)
    Over 60s & Students £12.50 (with gift aid) £11.00 (without gift aid)
    Children (5-18yrs) £8.50 (with gift aid) £7.00 (without gift aid)
    Family ticket * £36.50 (with gift aid) £32.00 (without gift aid)


    * The American Museum lies just a stone’s throw from our allotment. We could probably hurl a Yarlington Mill apple through their conservatory window if we tried hard enough. On a windy day we can smell the Yankee Candles they flog in the gift shop.

    ** As you sashay through the gardens, look out for the bronze busts of key figures in American history, sculpted by Angela Conner. Rumour has it they’ve reserved a spot for President Trump’s bust at the back of the house, down near the bins.

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  • How to make leaf mould

    Autumn has arrived and the trees surrounding our allotment are busy littering our neglected veggie beds and adjoining pathways with their crispy detritus. It’s a tidy-up task we rarely relish, but having recently conducted both rake and brush product reviews for the Indy Best, and currently testing Stihl’s new cordless Kombi engine (complete with leaf blower attachment), we are properly tooled up to conquer this annual leafy intrusion.

    First we’ll herd the pesky leaves into a huge pile, from which we’ll make some nutritious, humus rich compost for next year’s plants.

    It’s easy! Here’s how to make it…

    How to make leaf mould

    Step 1: Gather
    First off, sweep, rake or blow your leaves into a large pile.*

    Step 2: Bag
    Stuff your gathered leaves into a large bin bag (or bags).

    Step 3: Water
    Give the bag of leaves a soaking from your trustiest watering can, prod some holes in the sides of the bag, then tie the bag shut to stop leaves jumping out and running away.

    Step 4: Wait
    Leave your leafy bags in an out-of-the way place in your garden and WAIT. Your leaves will rot down into a rich, crumbly mixture – a process which will take around 12-18 months. To speed things up a little, run the leaves over with a mower before bagging and you’ll be flinging lovely leaf mould around within 6-8 months.

    If you can’t bear the wait, you can always use your collected leaves as a garden mulch. Give them a good soaking to help weigh them down and pack them around your plants to keep them warm overwinter whilst discouraging weeds to join the battle for soil space.

    For the even lazier, just let your pile of leaves be. A decent pile of leaves in an out-of-the-way place will be much appreciated by garden wildlife, acting as an insect larder and a warm place to kip during the cold winter nights.

    Our brush of choice is the Bulldozer, which we** recently rated as ‘number one’ in our Indy Best brush roundup. Ours was kindly supplied by Bentley Tools, and is available to buy here…



    * Be wary of drive-by dog attacks.

    **I say ‘we’ but mean ‘me’. When Nick divvied up the last round of Indy Best reviews to write, he suspiciously pulled out ‘Best Beer Hampers’ and ‘Best Tequilas and Mezcals’. I got brooms and rakes…



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  • Cider(s) of the Week: Crafty Nectar No.7 & No.8

    Having recently attended Bristol’s harbour-side Craft Beer Festival with its incredible array of tasty boozes, we were dismayed to find a severe lack of quality ciders on offer. Admittedly it was – after all – a craft beer fest so this kind of over-sight was not entirely unexpected, but it did make us sad and ponder how underserved (literally) cider is at these such events. We wandered over to the banks of the Avon (with amazing craft beers in hand) and looked longingly across to the opposite shore where the Bristol Cider shop lies, and dreamt of the juicy treats within. The sadness didn’t last – maybe a couple of minutes tops – and we were soon assaulting (not literally) the bar in a quest for more tasty beer. It did however spark our apple-y appetite to reacquaint ourselves with some nice ciders, and the following day we pledged to do so – as soon as our crushing, hoppy hangovers had receded sufficiently.

    As luck would have it, a brace of ciders arrived in the post the following week. The bottles hailed from Crafty Nectar – cider box distributors, apple aficionados and recent sponsors of standing stone blasphemy – who have been busy putting their considerable cider knowledge into good use and producing their own special range of ciders.

    Packaging-wise, Crafty Nectar have shunned the traditional farm-house style often spied on cider packaging (tractors, horses, hoary old farmers etc.) and gone for modern, jazzy labels in the craft beer style. Closer inspection of No. 7 revealed the background pattern to be made of rhinoceros* shapes, whilst naughty No. 8 appears to be clad in a coat of drooping breasts**. Pondering the significance of this incongruous imagery, the cap was popped on the rhinoceros cider and contents poured into a willing glass.

    Initial sips revealed a clean tasting, lightly carbonated cider with a lemon sherbet nose. It’s quite fruity, with traces of pineapple. Yarlington Mill and Dabinett are the apples name checked on the bottle. There’s a slight bitterness from the Dabinett but we didn’t get too much of a hit from the Yarlies which, in our experience, can be quite dominant. Rhinoceros cider No.7 is a good ‘un – not too ‘farmhouse’ so to scare off first time worshipers at the chapel of apple, but still packing plenty of flavour to keep cider aficionados interested.

    Next up, droopy breast No.8 which, controversially, contains rhubarb. Now mention to a traditional cider-maker that you’ve made a cider and blended it with something other than apples and there’s a good chance you’ll be on the end of a sound thrashing from a panking pole.***  Adding alien ingredients is considered a crime against the apple amongst many members of the cider-making community. And thanks to certain sickly sweet abominations that lurk on the supermarket shelves, it often is.****

    No.8,  however, is how it should be done. It’s cloudier than No.7, and comes in an amber bottle – presumably to help retain its pleasantly pink hue. On first sip, you get a tart taste of rhubarb, which builds the more you glug. A heavy handed cider maker could easily have tip the scales in favour of the rhubarb, but this blend harmonises beautifully and gives the cider an extra acidic twang. It’s a lovely balanced, refreshing cider – our only gripe being that the craft-friendly 330ml bottle left us wanting more. Great work, Crafty! We’re looking forward to  your next apple-y offering. *****


    Get yours here…

    Cider Bottle Shop


    *Rhinoceroces? Rhinocerice?

    ** It’s a design thing.

    *** A large pole used to dislodge apples from apple trees.


    ***** And especially looking forward to being invited to the next Stonehenge disco event.*****

    ****** Massive hint

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