A cold slow spring

Sunday, May 1, 2016

 You can more or less guarantee that if there is a mild winter we will have a late spring and so it has happened again this year. Too cold to plant out or sow vegetables, too wet to turn over  beds, and overwintering nursery plants have had to remain under cover  for much longer than usual,creating congestion in the tunnels and cold frames. The only upside is that early bulbs have stayed in flower for much longer than usual, providing some welcome colour, and magnolias without any penetrating frosts, have put on a never ending show.

We can't however boast anything as special as this superb magnolia sargentiana robusta alba at Hergest Croft


My reduced workload since my illness has meant that we have had the opportunity to go garden visiting in April, unheard of for the last 17 years of opening for the NGS - every cloud has a silver lining!

Part of the large beech woodland at Coton Manor with bluebells just coming into their prime.




Like most parts of the UK it has been a most unseasonal April. As so often happens after a mild winter there is usually a sting in the tail when spring arrives. April has been colder than March with lower than average temperatures especially at night when we have experienced 25 night time temperatures in single figures, 9 air frosts with a minimum of -3.5C on  28th. A few warmer days were welcome with a max of 16.3C on 20th. No really significant rainfall (which is not unusual for us in April) and with a northerly or easterly air stream for large parts of the month the ground dried out for the first time since last November.


Garden update

The garden has reflected the weather with very slow growth everywhere which was a blessing given the cold nights. The horticultural fleece was however called into use in the latter part of the month to protect the slowly breaking hostas and hydrangeas especially which are particularly susceptible to late frosts, damaging the leaves of hostas and the nascent flower buds of hydrangeas. But with over 200 hostas and 50 hydrangeas it is impossible to cover them all - just the very special or rare ones. And podophyllum "Spotty Dotty" which takes some years to reach its full size so that always get special treatment of two hollow crates covered with several layers of fleece


Emerging hosta pips on the last day of the month


Border perennials are very slow, but undaunted by the cold, lilies in the borders are well up and most pleasing of all there are cardiocrinum regenerations from established plantings some of which may flower later this year. Their shiny glossy leaves and vigour are an encouraging antidote to the lack of real growth elsewhere.


Thanks to more help in the gardens the border tidy up and weeding has been completed. The lawns are being mowed twice a week and the grass continues to look well even though growth is fairly slow. A little gentle scarifying and another feed in early May should set them up well for the summer.


In the vegetable garden the beds were rotovated in the last few days of the month by our dear friend Robert who has been tremenously supportive in so many ways. We had 3 x  150 metre beds which were getting a bit too much for us over the last few years, so we have decided to reduce them to 2 and grass over the other.


It will be quite a change to have to buy some vegetables  during the summer and autumn, but by not growing maincrop potatoes which take up a lot of room,  we will not substantially reduce our capacity to grow  a reasonable range of other vegetables, particularly those like runner, french and broad beans, togther with sweetcorn and courgettes which need little attention once they are planted.

In the tunnels and nursery I have sowed only a fraction of the seeds I usually do, which has substantially reduced my workload even though there are still plants to prick out and pot on. There is the never ending watering to do as we have so many large and well established plants in pots including Moira's succulent collection which now fills a whole 4 x 1 metre bench, many of them having been purchased over the years in very small 7 or 9 cm pots.


One thing we will not be growing this year, much to my regret, is the hanging baskets which for nearly 40 years have graced the arches of the verandah and have been much admired by garden visitors and passers by. Watering and dead heading daily involves climbing onto the verandah wall and carrying heavy watering cans around something which in my condition is now beyond me. And it takes an average of 40 minutes to complete each day! Moira has a cunning plan to provide a maintenance free alternative- more on this next month!



What's looking good?

As usual and in keeping with my strategy to reduce the workload! no long text, just pictures to give a good impression of the stars of the moment in one form or another, and trust me in the conditions we have had in April, I am really struggling to find many!!

Lysichiton amaricanus


A nice alternative to the robust and smelly skunk cabage is this slow growing and dainty form from the far east Lysichiton camtschatcensis`


Magnolia lobneri "Merrill"


 I spotted this beautiful sport of a celandine in a bank along the stream bed containing a range of named and wild form - will it become as well known in time as "Brazen Hussy" found in a hedgerow many years ago?!


 Another unusual find was this emerging late spotted orchid in the Paddock Garden which has taken on this amazing leaf variegation. It will be interesting to see if it keeps it as it grows


 Perhaps the best of all are these 2 magnificient flowers from a  couple of plants in a sowing last year of aquilegia longissima seeds which as usual produced a range of forms and colour. They are still in pots in one of the polytunnels hence the early flowering





Wildlife and countryside

Plenty of bird activity with nesting now well under way, a robin having chosen an unlikely spot in a 1.5 litre plant pot at the back of my pot store. Not the best constructed nest you will ever see just a mass of spagnum moss with 5 eggs (now chicks - I don't like to disturb them to count if all the eggs hatched) at the back of it. The parents have strange feeding habits as unlike some birds (blue tits in particular come to mind)  they aren't back and forward all day long, just one random visit every now and again. I just don't have the time or patience to count the visiting intervals.


Still on the subject of birds the call of a cuckoo from the beech wood across the valley was a welcome sound on 17 April, the first I have heard here for some years. As it hasn't been heard again since then it may have moved on.

The first sighting of a single swallow was on 27 April with a few more coming since then. Like everything else this spring, much later than usual.

In the Paddock Pond there were scarcely any toads sighted just the odd one or too forlorn figures looking for a romantic liaison - a far cry from 10 years or so ago when I would regularly go out after dark with a torch and gather literally bucketfulls from the adjoining country lane.

Although there was a good spawning and hatch of frog spawn, there are few identifiable tadpoles in the pond but as there is so much pond weed and and other deritrus on the surface it is no surprise that they are difficult to spot.


Some good wildflowers now in road verges and native woodlands. Bluebells are still slow, but primroses, cowslips. oxsilps and wood anemones are putting on a great show and along the M50 corridor in Gloucestershire, staggering displays of native daffodils everywhere you look - shame there is nowhere to stop to admire and photograph them.

This magnicient stand of cowslips on a sunny bank at Coton Manor interemingled with violets, the whole scene enhanced by an overpowering scent on a warm sunny day.


Somewhere along the M50 I tried a picture from the car  - use your imagination what it must have looked like in real time!  Next time I wll use a sports setting on the camera!!



As always at this time of year the surrounding countryside rings with the sound of lambs and ewes calling to each other. or to signal the arrival of a quad bike bringing rations of nuts to supplement the shortage of grass in the fields.

Not much sign of growth on native trees or in the ornamentals in the garden - a far cry from the situation we viewed around the Wye Valley, Evesham and especially from Oxfordshire all the way to London,



These were undoubtedly the highlights of the month as it is such a novelty for us, during April!!, to take time off from our own garden to see  others in a wide variety of locations.

We also took in the RHS Show in Cardiff.



 A wonderful display of daffodils from R A Scamp of Quality Daffodils, Cornwall




A novel way of exhibiting a display of primula sieboldii from a National Collction holder


 Nerines in April -amazing


I have given many talks to clubs, societies and at shows, but never with such an effective and imposing background as this lucky speaker had



Count how many miniature hostas ar displayed in this small bowl. They may look small but the prices are anything but that.


 One of the captivating owls for children of all ages on a stand with a collection of a wide range of a much loved bird.



Two of our very favourite gardens are Hergest Croft in Herefordshire and Coton Manor, Northamptonshire.

Hergest Croft

Images of the garden on a cold damp day.






An attractive and traditional way of supporting this emerging paeony much nicer than my rusty iron supports


The gardens boast a superb collection of trees and shrubs with several National Collections. Emerging growth on sorbus megalocarpa from western China. Many trees have been grown from seed


For all the many treasures elsewhere in the gardens one plant stood out for me. Just a small plant a few inches tall it really captured my attention as I could not think what it was and neither could several of my knowledgeable gardening friends. The owner of the gardens kindly named it for me as aristolochia steupii, very rare in cultivation  and collected by his father in Georgia during the 1970's. Part of the "Dutchman's Pipe" family, I never realised there are hardy forms as well as the more commonly encountered carniverous forms often seen at the major flower shows


To find out more about Hergest Croft go to www.hergest.co.uk

The two gardens share similarities, not so much in style and layout, but in that they have been developed over many years by 3 generations of the same families and the love and care of successive custodians has ensured they stay true to the spirit of the gardens. There are also valuable histotrical records and plants still in existence that go back to the plantings of the original creators of the gardens. 

Coton Manor only came to my attention last year and having visited it last summer and this month I can vouch for its qualities at different times of year.



 It must be the only garden in the UK to have flamingos wandering freely in the grounds and where the colour scheming has to be planned so as not to clash with them!


It is however a serious plants persons garden with a wide range of treasures and superb planting combinations around every corner - and a marvellous nursery full of plants showcased in the gardens.






 To learn more about Coton go to www.cotonmanor.co.uk

A novel twist on the garden visiting theme came with a trip to the Royal Academy in London to see the outstanding exhibition entitled "Painting the Modern Garden from Monet to Matisse" which deservedly had rave reviews. 230 pictures in total and two hours of sheer delight and inspiration with lots of ideas and new dimensions to muse upon.





To find out more about the exhibition go to www.royalacademy.org.uk/painting/modern-garden-monet-matisse

Walking back to the car after the show we came across this public house tribute to The Bard, quite fitting just 2 days before the 400th anniversary of his death