A cosmic event eclipses the rest of the March News

Monday, March 30, 2015

The most significant news item by a mile this month (well 93 million miles to be precise!) was the partial eclipse of the sun, Unlike much of the UK, we were blessed with a brilliantly clear blue sky all morning allowing us to get a perfect view and to experience the changes it brought about. I think it was the first occassion I have ever had such an an unfetterred view and it was an emotional and overwhelming experience. The gradual darkness like someone gently  turning down a dimmer switch. the rising mist in the valley, the  significant temperature drop, the birds falling silent and the eerie stillness was something I had not fully expected. Under an hour from start to finish but never to be forgotten and reassuring that there is still some wonderment and majesty beyond the reach of all conquering mankind.



The light mist creeping up the valley


Most of the memories are captured in the mind, which is fortunate because it was exceptionially difficult to capture the event on a fairly basic Bridge camera without filters but I had a go with an assortment of rudimentry props including numerous pairs of sunglasses!! Specialist viewiing goggles were available on the iInternet but as the day came  closer the prices rose considerably to £45 for the goggles and £25 postage all for a bit of cardboard and a couple of plastic filters. If I am around to see the next one in a dozen years time  I  shall be better prepared and buy some goggles well in advance and make sure I get some camera filters and a better camera - who knows where they will be by then..

Even only a quarter of the sun still cast a strong shadow - love the patterns on the chippings.


 The money shot!!




A very changeable  month with many cold days and nights and plenty of rain at times. A warmer and more sunny week in mid month was very welcome and for the first time since November the soil surface began to dry out. No exceptional weather events but the continuing cold and lower light  levels held everything back not just here in our frost pocket valley but also it seems from national foreacsts in most parts of the UK too.

An incredible 17 night time temperatures below zero. Min -4C on four occasions. Max 12.8C on 29th a day of driving rain and no sunshine - a strange month indeed.


Garden update

Nearly a week of fine weather in the third week was most welcome as we were at last able to blitz many outdoor jobs. Painting for Moira, the picket fence all around the property (now shining white again) sets off the house beautifully, and for me beginning the marathon border weeding. I managed to finish the House Garden just before the rains returned and now the larger paddock garden borders lie in wait - 2 x40 metres long and 7 metres wide and 4 other smaller borders. It is hard going at times but the gardens  already look so much better for it.

The sparkling white picket fence - being alongside a country lane it does get very dirty.



A lone papaver orientalis surrounded  by a mat of bittercress.


Still no opportunity  to rotovate the vegetable beds because they are too wet, I am now more sanguine about it than I used to be as I know that we will catch up eventually when the ground warms up and is in better heart.

The lawns have looked very good all winter thanks to a feed of high potash and phosphate winter lawn fertiliser in late November. These feed the roots and green up the grass. After a first cut on 22 March it was good to see the stripes again and lush green grass. I see my farmer neighbour looking enviously over the gate!!


Sowing and potting on has continued throughout the month in the tunnels and all my lily bulbs and bare root perenniials arrived together so some urgent work was needed there. I am running out of protected space and as soon as the weather warms up I need to clear out some of the hardier perennials from the tunnels to the cold frames and from the frames to the outdoors benching. 


I have recently sowed into modules the main flush of summer annuals - eschscholtzias in variety, cornflowers, poppies, rudbeckias, dimorphotheca a South African annual like an osteospermum. These will be infilled into the main herbaceous borders during late spring  I have however reduced the amount I have sown this year because I intend to broadcast directly into the ground a poppy, cornflower, ammi majus, cosmos annual mix from a company called "Pictorial Meadows". This company  have supplied the seed for the Olympic Park in 2012 and for many municipal authorities for roundabouts, roadside verges and the like. In contrast to carpet bedding, reduced labour costs and far more attractive planting. We have some stunning examples in our part of Wales. 

Spring carpet bedding on aroundabout in Llanelli using only polyanthus in a range of colours. Not my choice by any  means but bright and cheerful on a dismal day



And less than 100 yards in a sheltered corner of recent leisure development was this magnificient stand of euphorbia characias var unknown. It blew me away as it is so unusual to see such inspried mass planting of a single cultivar in an urban setting. It made my day!



At this time of year I am always reminded of  the role that Bothy Boys played in the great gardens of the 19th and early 20th Centuries. There was a hieracrchy of gardeners starting with the Head Gardener and ending with the apprentices the so called Bothy Boys, They did the most meniall and labour intensive work and lived communally in structures built in  the grounds . Some were little more than wooden sheds but others were  of more permanent construction and therefore more comfortable. All these buildings were called  bothies, possibly from the  Welsh bwythyn which means a cottage or hut. One of the key tasks given their proximity to the the gardens, was to oversee the stove houses, the heated glasshouses containing the prized tropical fruits to which great importance was attached by the garden owners. This involved keeping the coal fires stoked overnight and covering with fabric the more tender fruits like peaches and nectarines grown outside on the walls of the garden. all this with just a parrafin lantern for light.  

As a one man band in the 21st Century at Cilgwyn Lodge, all  the chores fall to me so I encompass all the duties formerly undertaken by all the levels of gardeners in the old days. Whenever there is a serious risk of overnight frost, and with tender emerging leaves breaking on shrubs and herbaceous perennials,  I have to cover them with hortcultural fleece every night  and then inspect the gas and electric heaters in the tunnels and greenhouses often beyond midnight.  With all the benefits of modern living, a powerful LED head torch and a warm home to come into  it is still quite a chore that only makes me admire those Bothy Boys even more.


What's looking good?

As with last month's news not very much!  However the hellebores at last reached a rather later peak than in the last 2 years to give a great show along with anemone blanda, pulmonarias, muscarii, primroses and daffodils. Erythroniums are showing good buds and full leaf growth and that thuggish self seeder honesty has ensured another grest display this year all over the gardens. Here are pictures of some of the best :-

 An outstanding apricot hellebore cultivar at Farmyard  Nurseries



 A wonderful display of the reproductive parts of a large flowered helleborus niger



And what a large flower it is. It didn't come to me with any cultivar name but it probably is from a form called "Potters Wheel" 



Hellebores in a corner of the woodland garden along with a dainty 19th Century daffodil called "W.P.Milner" a first rate form for naturalising and still readily available. None of that searing yellow and large flower size that can really put me off them.



A favourite woodlander of mine for early spring use is hacquetia epipactis



And if scent is your thing then what about this sweet violet "Koningen Charlotte" the scent of which carries many yards over the garden on a warm day



Another little woodland treasure is hepatica nobilis one of the few of the many I have planted that has become established.



The striking large flower of asarum maximum "Silver Panda" an unusual and sought after form of the genus. Good ground cover with silvery green leaves after flowering.



And if you look hard enough you can see interesting forms and shapes all over the gardens. I was wheeling away the spent Brussels sprout plants when it struck me what  simple beauty there was in the rosettes a the top of the plants. Then I remembered that coloured rossette cabbages are used in winter bedding and even in bouquets.



Wildlife and countryside

Lambs are everywhere now as they continue to grow and become ever more noisy and boisterous. Still more to come over the next few weeks.



Mallard ducks are regular visitors to the Paddock Pond as is a solitary and shy moorhen.



After the mass laying of the frog spawn there were many bubbles caught up in the spawn and when the sunlight caught them some glowed like precious jewels. If you look carefully you can even see me reflected in the bubble! Another unworldly happening in a cosmic month.


The toads, quietly and without fuss began breeding on 13 March but not nearly as many as I have seen in the past so there may be more yet to come when the weather warms up which they seem to prefer.

Jiust before dark a few nights ago the menacing prescence of a goshawk appeared over the Lodge scattering birds in all directions, the blackbirds in a state of frenzy giving out their siren calls. It flew in fast bursts away to the woods further down the vally and disappeared into the trees. I hope it stays aroiund to reduce some of our overpopulated magpies. The goshawk although a voracious raptor with a bad reputation, is a magnificent bird and still very rare. but having said that we don't want too many of them! A second and more definitive sighting was made a night later when its barred underbelly plumage was clearly visible and what a flier!


A lucky blackbird takes refuge in an apple tree




Just 2 talks in March both to groups in Pembrokeshire and both on "Growing Vegetables", the most requested talk this year. We have 3 in April including our long awaited trip to Dorset to speak to the East Dorset Branch of Plant Heritage. My talk there follows that given a week ago by Fergus Garrett Head Gardener at Great Dixter when 300 people attended! No pressure then!! It is the first presentation of my latest talk "Stunning Summer Perennials" which I hope will find favour with the audience many of whom we already know.

Just a remiinder that for the 16th consecuitive year, we are again opening by prior arrangement for the National Gardens Scheme  from June until the end of August, If you would liike to visit us either as a group or for individuals please get in touch to secure the date of your choice. July is the most popular month so if you would like to come then we recommend an early booking. If you have a copy of the 2015 Yellow Book look at the section for Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire and you will find Cilgwyn Lodge as the front page featured garden. Quite an honour.

The garden nursery at Cilgwyn Lodge is open from April but as we don't have set opening times please get in touch to confirm we will be around when you would like to come. There is a wide range of choice perennials for sale.

In a busy month we found time to have  2 days off to visit Bristol for the first time in many years, and the National Botanic Garden of Wales with friends after an excellent lunch at "Y Polyn" an excellent local restaurant which we can highly recommend.

Bristol has the best shopping Mall I have seen. A great feeling of light and spaciousness and some attractive architechture especially the glazed roof.



And in the window of a sushi bar was this fantastic aquarium like display



 We really liked Bristol for its relaxed atmosphere, history, open spaces and waterways penetrating deep into the heart of the city. Parts of it with wide cobbled pavements, plane trees and water look like Paris and in the "Glass Boat" restaurant a cuisine to match. Followed if you like by a cruise through the waterways and up the Avon Gorge. A place definitely to return to soon.



At the National Botanic Garden of Wales it was Mediterranean Spring in the Great Glasshouse, with sights and scents to match.

The stunning blue of echium candicans , a huge sprawling plant to 8 feet



A highly scented broom family member name unknown



The European Section with large olives, rosemaries, lavenders, cyclamen, and iris stylosa to name just a few.



From South America this magnificent 10 foot inflorence of puya chilensis a really dangerously spiky bromeliad


And finally from South Africa leucadendron gandrigan, a sunny yellow to match the sunny news item at the beginning.