40 years at Cilgwyn Lodge

Sunday, April 3, 2016

I had been looking forward to 2016 for some time - after all it is not that often that you get the opportunity to celebrate 40 years of living in the same house. It is a privilege to have been the custodians of this special place for so long. Census returns from 1841 onwards confirm that no -one else has lived here for that length of time.

An aerial photograph of Cilgwyn Lodge from 1969 and how the garden looked when I came to live here


  April 1987 House garden


 The latest aerial photograph from 2009 showing current layout of both gardens



The date of the anniversary was 29 March.  In 1976 it was a soft mild day with good growth in the gardens, some plants of which, as a relatively inexperienced gardener, were new to me. Hellebores and a few emerging hostas particularly took my attention and have been lifelong friends since then (the original hosta Albo Marginata lives on in many divisions I have taken from the original plant over the years), and both hostas and hellebores have been substantially added to over the years. 

Looking forward to the future is not as easy now as it was in the carefree, healthy years of my late twenties. It was clear that sooner or later  as we grew older, the garden of 1 acre and adjoining plant nursery would become more difficult to manage and that opening for the NGS would become more pressurised as the years went by. However I did not expect the end to come quite so quickly. I reported in last months News that I had been ill for a large part of January and February with a respiratory condition affecting my right lung. I recently received the sad news that I have an incurable cancer on the lining of the lung called mesothelioma.  I have chosen to have no treatment at present and intend to take every day as it comes and to enjoy the garden for as long as possible, especially as Spring comes ever closer. 

Moira and gardening friends have done a great deal of work in the gardens so that they look as good as they have ever done at this time of year. We are so grateful for their kindness and hard work which has lifted my spirits considerably. At what is usually one of my busiest times of year, I have been on much reduced duties in the polytunnels and doing some limited weeding usually from a sitting position!

Moira and friends Estelle and Colin hard at work in the Koi Pond border


I do intend to continue to publish my monthly website news which I have so much enjoyed over the last 6 years and which has received such positive feedback from many readers. The gardens are still here and with wildlife and countryside all around us, there is always something of interest to write about, so please keep visiting us in digital format, even though the garden and nursery are no longer open to the public.



At last we saw the end of the 4 month stranglehold of wet and windy weather when  high pressure started to build in the early part of March culminating in over 2 weeks of fabulously dry and sunny weather during mid month, In spite of the sun and a few warmer days it was generally cold day and night with a good few frosts,  down to -5C on four occassions. Day time temperatures rarely got much above 10C although the mercury climbed to a balmy 14C on several days allowing lunch to be taken outside. What a joy after those weeks in hospital earlier in the year!! Rain and a couple of gales late month were almost welcome as the garden had started to look dry. 


Garden update

As mentioned earlier, the main March job is cutting back all the 18 borders  which this year was completed by our dear friends. All the haulms were burned on that one special bonfire I always look forward to. As you can imagine all the haulms amount to a huge amount of material which being air dried goes up in a huge inferno! There are far less weeds this year than I have seen for some time, except in just a couple of borders where bittercress still displayed its abilities to reign supreme over all other weeds. Growth everywhere is quite slow and erratic and some plants like snowdrops stopped growing and had a another go later in the month. 

Paddock garden after make over and first mowing of lawns


 The Red Border - only plants in growth are hemerocallis



As we have no visitors this year I have much reduced my seed sowing which seems strange as it is a particular passion of mine and a major pre occupation in March with sowing, pricking out and potting on having to be factored in alongside all the other early spring tasks. Many of the seeds I had already ordered (over 150 from the Hardy Plant Society alone) have been distributed amongst friends. We will not be growing  many vegetables which perhaps will be the hardest thing to come to terms with. I have grown vegetables both here and in my previous garden in Gloucestershire continuously since 1972. 

The dry weather allowed the lawns to be mown and given spring treatment, and I have to say how pleased I am that the grass looked good all winter and how thick it was when cut. I think this is partially due to the fact that we had no long prolonged  frosts all winter and that I used a professional long lasting feed based on potash and phosphates with very reduced nitrogen which enabled the roots to be fed providing a good structure to the sward.


What's looking good?

Not much to be honest. The cold days and nights have held everything back but the hellebores which sat and sulked in all the rain have had a new lease of life and there are one or two real stunners.

A superb yellow with vivid red star centre - a new aquisition from last year


 An old favourite from Farmyard Nurseries, just outside the kitchen window. Planted to catch the late afternoon sunshine which intesifies the good red colour


 When not many other herbaceous plants are in flower foliage can be an exciting alternative. In this pic. a carpet of almost black leaves of anthriscus "Ravens Wing"


 Corydalis temulifolia "Chocolate Stars"



The incredible black leaves of a heuchera, name long since lost!


Daffodils were right on cue for Easter and I have discovered several new ones to me this spring (which is not difficult given how many registered cultivars there are).

Narcissus cyclamineus cultivar at Aberglasney gardens



A jonquill cultivar "Quail" very floriferous with multi heads and an intense perfume



"Jenny", one of my all time favourite cultivars of cylamineus hybrids



And an elegant modern cyclamineus hybrid "Treena"


 After all those hybrid forms nature does it best with the native form of daffdil, N pseudonarcissus in the woodland garden with late hellebores


In the propagation polytunnel there are some good lily seedlings from my own seed sown up to 3 years ago. It can then take most of them another couple of years  to get to flowering size. Many of them are lilium martagon which I find reliable and relatively quick to germinate.




Perhaps my all time favourite is the giant Himalayan lily, cardiocrinum giganteum which demands great patience from the seed sower as it can be up to 7 years from seed to flower. But what a great joy it is and well worth the wait. It was possibly the highlight of my horticultural life when my first one flowered in 2014 and it still leaves al lump in my throat even when I think about it. The good news is that when it gets established in the garden it can continue to produce flowers from new bulbs it forms every year for many years to come. And always so I am told, it does better from your own bulbs from seed than any you can buy in!!

Cardiocrinum seedlings recently germinated from seed sown in autumn 2014. Potential flowering dates from the huge bulbs that will form in 6 years is2020/2021



The object of all that affection and anticipation. Well worth the wait  in June- July and 7-8 feet tall



Another bulbous plant that makes you wait for its flowering. After 5 years this superb velthemia bracteata was the best of a group of mixed colours from seed I obtained from the Hardy Plants Society's 2011 annual seed exchange. Not I hasten to add a hardy plant but many of us Hardy Planters don't worry too much about that!!


And finally on the seed sowing front I am hoping that this year of all years, the pots of tulipa sprenegeri that are in their third year from my own seed will flower. Short growing, shade loving and long lived in the garden they are one of nature's miracles. They were originally collected in the wild from just one location in N.W Turkey in the late 1800's and since 1896 none have ever been found anywhere in the wild. All successive progeny available in horticulture have come from seed from cultivated plants. Although the tiny bulbs mulitiply well they grow very deeply and are difficult to find for digging up. To be involved with this special plant even in such a small way is a great thrill,  and people sometimes wonder why I am nuts about plants!! For more info Google www, alpinegardensociety.net and search for tulipa sprenegeri


Wildlife and countryside

As I wasn't feeling well at the beginning of the month I missed all the frog activity in the Paddock Pond which was later this year, but by mid month most of the eggs had hatched and  the jelly they are laid in disintegrated. The toads then started but so far there have not been very many and as they seem to prefer warmer evenings they are probably biding their time. All forms of wildlife are not governed by diary dates  but a whole host of prevailing conditions,which is why there is such variability year on year.

And speaking of variability snowdrops in the wild have been flowering much later and are now as good as they have been since the beginning of the year. Unusually their late flowering has coincided with the main flush of primroses, not an event I have seen that often.

Primroses are having a great spring everywhere you look as on this country lane not far from us



And not far away is a similar sized group of snowdrops


Finally having been used for some time to seeing large groups of red kites. it has been reassuring  recently to see buzzards making bigger groupings of up to 5 or 6 which is how they used when I first came here and before the kite numbers had begun to increase. There is a feeling in these parts that the rise in kite numbers has had a detrimental effect on buzzards.



Having resolved when my cancer was diagnosed that we were going to make the most of every day, we have had more outings than we have ever had at this time of year which included our 2 nearest large gardens, Aberglasney and the National Botanic Garden for Wales which we are lucky to have a short car journey away.

 Aberglasney in March shows off the woodland planings to great effect with moist humous rich soil in many areas of the gardens and in the clearings are some choice herbaceous  forms the foliage of which  is almost as rich as the later flowers


 This deep pink magonolia sprengeri "Marwood Spring"  is in a strategic position asyou come out of Bishop Rudd's garden. It is really striking as its flowers are set against the blue sky of a sunny Good Friday



And a really nice surprise was a superb 2-3 feet tall flower spike of the earliest flowering arisaema nepenthoides 



The National Botanic Gardens is on a huge scale but is nevertheless generously planted with something choice for all seasons. A large drift of pulmonaria "Blue Ensign" creates a haze when viewed at a distance


 One of the best of all the named celandines is "Brazen Hussey" found by Christopher Lloyd in a hedgerow near Great Dixter with its almost black leaves perfectly matched  to the bright yellow flowers.




 Mimosa in the Great Glasshouse


 The Canary Islands


An elegant shrub is sparmania with lightly scented flowers 


 Tropaeolum tricolor


 What a joy in the South African garden to find a King Protea coming into flower in a ledge in a rocky face. Such brilliant planting as in much of the Great  Glasshouse


 The unique roof is an attraction in its own right


We are not opening the garden this year to visitors but there was evidence earlier this month that some uninvited guests had found a way around this!

Bloody rabbits!!