A disappointing August brings an almost perfect summer to a close

Sunday, August 31, 2014

I guess it had to happen sooner or later - you just couldn't expect to continue to wear shorts everyday of the summer! Although it was difficult to accept at first when "normal" summer weather returned, in some ways it was a blessing because we needed the rain which came just in time. The much cooler weather from mid month onwards slowed down the rate of plant growth when it looked as though the gardening year was beginning to run out of steam. It was relief too when the endless daily round of watering became less of a necessity, saving a good hour and a half a day, to be more profitably spent elsewhere in the Gardens: dead heading and weeding were back on the agenda again and not before time!

 One border which which enjoyed the wetter cooler conditions was the north facing shade border in the Paddock Garden



We were delighted on 22 August to play host to S4C Televison, the Welsh medium channel who came to film the gardens for a feature on Prynhawn Da, an afternoon magazine programme. They spent nearly 5 hours here and interviewed me towards the end of the day. I will publish the date when the feature will be shown.





There were only 5 days above 21C, warmest dayTuesday 5th with a max of 23C. Coldest 3C on 21st - without the cloud cover after midnight it would have been the end for a wide range of tender plants in the gardens. Very heavy rain at intervals throughout the month but as in previous months very little wind. With the air flow now in a more south westerly direction it will hopefully see the end of potential frosts but bring us more rain. You can't  have everything!! The Met Office have confirmed it was the wettest August for 10 years and the coldest for 21 years.


Garden update

At times there has been a distinctly autumnal feel in the gardens with some trees and shrubs already turning colour (notably amelanchier lamarckii and horse chestnuts) and others in full berry production -hawthorns, roses and aronia with large crops much to the delight of a variety of birds. Aronias have the darkest berries, almost black, if left to maturity, but once the blackbirds find them the plant is stripped in a few days.



Hips on rosa glauca a lovely species rose with bluish leaves and pink single flowers in June. 



The fabulous colouring on this deeply incised palmate leaf of ligularia przewalskii



Other indicators of autumn have been a very early flowering of some kaffir lilies, now known botanically as hesperantha, aster nova-angliae "September Ruby"  in flower on the 10 August. There are many other asters here, now showing colour in the bud. Amazingly after such a hot, dry summer, there is absolutely no sign of any mildew on any of the  Nova- Belgii (N.B) types that can be badly defoliated by the mildew before they flower. On the other hand the phlox paniculata hybrids that flowered early were plastered with mildew from early July onwards whereas the later flowering forms now in bloom are mildew free.


Totally mildew free leaves on aster N.B



Always midew free are the "New England" (nova-angliae) asters. This one called "September Ruby " was in flower by 10 August 



The growth on most herbaceous plants is so lush this year that I have had to do more staking than ever, and just about run out of metal stakes of which I have more than 500!! It may seem mad to many of you who read this, but I am a traditionalist at heart and love classic herbaceous borders and this is the price I more than happily pay. 

Part of the Red Border with dahlias, lobelia "Ruby Slippers",

sedum "Purple Emperor" and providing soilidity in the background is cercis canadensis "Forest Pansy"


On the subject of the borders it is at this time of year that I start to consider next year's displays and identify those plants that need to be split or removed, the impact of the colour schemes and the harmony of the plantings. Timely interventions like this keep the borders fresh and the plants in the best condition. Ideas change, better or more long lasting plants become available and sometimes you just feel like doing something different. Some things I will attend to in the next few weeks but others I will mark with canes and do in the spring.

In spite of the lack of rain the lawns have looked very good and are fed on a monthly basis, this year with 7:7:7 Growmore which gives them a balanced dose of NPK. The autumn scarifying has just been completed followed by top dressing with sharp sand and grass seed to get established before the winter. I can't believe  how effective this is and the benefits are in evidence throughout the winter and following spring. Old fashioned or not visitors always appreciate a fine green sward, some even asking if they can walk on it! No"Keep Off the Grass" signs here!


All is not plain sailing however - parts of the turf in the House Garden lawns came up in lumps when scarifying, and pulling back the turf revealed the culprits - masses of cockchaffer grubs, the larval stage of "May Bugs" They totally devastate the roots. All grubs removed by hand and where was the tame robin when you neeed him?




Sometimes in gardening when you have practised it for many years, you suddenly realise that perhaps there is another way to do something you have never seriously questioned before: take hostas for example. They have invariably lovely flowers, some times scented, in shades from white to deep purple, depending on the cultivar, over a long period of time. I have always viewed the flowering of hostas as something to be enjoyed but there is a price to be paid in that as the flowers fade the spent blooms fall on the leaves where they decompose and set up moulds on the leaves which quicky spoil them, even in a dry summer like this year. The result is that they quickly look a mess but hostas with thicker leaves are not so badly affected. However  most other hostas are capable of looking good well into autumn if action is taken to control the effect of the spent flowers on the leaves. Some gardeners remove the individual flowers as they fade which is very time consuming, others just cut off the flower stem before it starts to flower which they consider to be essential to keep the plants looking in good condition. Except in cases where hostas have exceptional flowers I intend next year to cut off the flower heads before they open. Drastic I know but I will see how it goes it goes and report back to you. I also intend next spring, to replace with newer introductions all the hostas in the borders at the front and side of the house.


Devastation on leaves of hosta "Halcyon"



Contrast with "Night Before Christmas"  which often stays in good condition until October 



What's looking good?

Like last month, there is so much that it is difficult to choose! To name just a few - dahlias, lobelias, crocosmias, hydrangeas, late liles, impatiens, roscoeas, rudbeckias, chelone obliqua, sedums, late clematis, brugmansias.  A gallery of which follows. Perhaps the greatest satisfaction however is the bountiful vegetable harvest which is feeding us and our friends and neighbours. Nothing beats the sweetcorn which never tastes better than straight off the plants and into the pot before the sugars turn to starch.


The walk to the Monet seat with salvias, crocosmias, achillea ptarmica and agastche rogusa grouped  in a flowing and naturalistic fashion



An impressive roscoea purpurea x "Red Gurkha* with dark stems and leaves and deep purple flowers for 2 months



A fine stand of sweetcorn



And the best bit of all the succulent and sweet cobs dripping with butter!



Brugmansia suavolens in the large tunnel with 30 blooms on a much branched plant 8 feet tall



A late and very prolific flowering on most of the shrub roses is an added bonus, the more so as there is little in the way of rust or blackspot to spoil the overall appearance

Always much admired by visitors is rosa "Rhapsody in Blue" a good repeat cluster flowered type



On the basis that one picture is worth a thousand words it's far better to let the plants speak for themselves so here are some  more pics. of the very best 

A fine crop of Sturon onions grown from sets



A fine stand of 80!! winter cabbages including in order of cropping "Resolution", "KIlaxy", "Marabel" a January King Type, "Tundra" several varieties of late winter savoys



A very acceptable crop of potatoes considering the late planting lack of rain and early onset of blight. 3.5 cwt of spuds harvested including Cara, Maris Piper, Blue Belle, Cara but once again the best crop and largest tubers came from the good old faithful Desiree my  favourite all rounder


Only 2 varieties of tomato grown this year (35 plants in all) but when they are as good as "Rosada", small plum, and "Gourmet",  standard size, you need no others



Hydrangea "Preziosa" continues to delight with its ever changing colours on the fading flowers



Hydrangea "Tokyo Delight", very refined for a macrophylla type with a fine balance of fertile flowers and sterile ray florets



Paniculata group hydrangeas are some of the easiest and most reliable forms to grow and we have 10 different varieties here. This one is "Vanille Fraise" which starts white but ages to deep pink like a combination of vanilla and strawberry ice cream. It has a pink eyed/white phlox, lobelia syphyllitica and monarda "Snow White" as border companions. I hope you will agree they make a pleasing combinbation



 A more unusual form of hydrangea but not uncommon is h. involucrata, a smaller form with interesting flower heads, which begin the process with a single balloon shaped flower bud that opens to a more familiar lacecap head.  This one is a recent introduction being a cross between h. involucrata and h. aspera Kawakami Group. Here it a is partnered with persicaria "Inverleith" which perfectly picks up the slightly peachy pink of the hydrangea flowers




And this one is h.involucrata "Oshima", a smaller, more compact form than the one above 



Clematis tangutica "Lambton Park" a long flowering form to 15 - 20 feet



Clematis Purpurea Plena Elegans climbing into a variegated Portugese laurel



Doing exceptionally well is  "Heather Herschell" a scrambler rather than a climber which grows to about 6 feet. Ideal for clothing early summer perennials which have faded.



And a simple very small flower of the species clematis texensis, the only red species in the genus clematis which by crossing has give rise to "Princess Diana", "Gravetye" ,"Duchess of Albany" and many others all have which have much larger flowers in this shape on more vigorous plants



Wildlife and countryside

Where have all the winged insects gone? The butterflies especially are now very scarce only a few tortoishells and peacocks have been in evidence, in spite of a rich variety of open flowers for them to feast upon. The good news is that the scarcity also extends to cabbage whites!!  Dragonflies are rarely seen and of all things at this time of year there are hardly any wasps.

Plenty of bats at twilight (pipistrelles for the most part) and many swallows and martins starting to mass on the telephone lines, a sure sign of impending autumn.

It has been good after an absence of some years to see hedgehogs again in the gardens. One mature adult and several juveniles. On a dark night I even tripped over one in the long grass of the adjoining field - good job I didn't land on the spikes as they are really sharp.



There have been several sightings of a goshawk, a brooding and menacing presence and an impressive flier. Other notable birds this month have included kingfishers, dippers, ravens, and a good many red kites after the surrounding fields have been cut for the grass harvest. There are several young robins which get bolder everyday, following me wherever I go. Their breasts are slowly turning red and I asked the young daughter of of one of our farmer neighbours what the Welsh name is for robin and without hesitation she replied it was robin goch, the equivalent of robin redbreast. They are great company all year round and such characters.

Hope it isn't tempting fate but there are far less rabbits in evidence so all the protective fleece has at last been removed from the vegetables. Grey squirrels are very active with such an abundant harvest of nuts on the native hazels.I just hope they leave alone the ripening later crop of sweetcorn cobs to which they are particularly partial.

Peahen and chicks on the lawns at Powis Castle



Like most men the brightly coloured peacocks are more intersted in going out with boys and discussiing the football results!!



Visits and visitors

Our NGS garden opening year came to an end with a visit from volunteers at Cowbridge Physic Garden on the 26th. It was an excellent visit with so many knowledgeable plantspeople (all ladies which was very nice for me!!) and a great way to finish; a special thanks ladies for the generous gifts you presented to us.



This year we have raised £1,235 for the charities supported by the NGS and had just under 200 visitors. Every one of  the visits was in fine dry weather which is surely a record in the 15 years we have been opening the Gardens.

Next week we commence our 11th season of autumn and winter talks to clubs and societies with a visit to old friends at Bwlch Gardening Club. If you would like us to give a talk to your club please get in touch. Our current range of talks can be found under the heading "Talks and Teas" on the website.

During August we continued to find opportunities to go garden visiting ourselves and during the month went to National Botanic Garden of Wales, Bristol University Botanic Garden, Powis Castle, Pan-Global Plants, a really excellent nursery in Gloucestershire and Derwen Garden Centre in Welshpool, part of Dingle Nurseries the largest nursery group in Wales.

 National Botanic garden of Wales


A tropical waterlily in the hot glasshouse



A fabulous stand of kangaroo paws in the Australian section of the Great Glasshouse



And in the monocot section of the double walled garden a banana in full bloom outdorrs having benfitted from the warm summer



Bristol University Botanic Gardens. Showing the evolution of plants many of which are still around today, some over 500 million years old - no wonder I am so in awe of plants!



The giant amazonian waterlily named for Queen Victoria and grown in hot glasshouses in the UK for 200 years. Huge leaves that reputedly can easily carry the weight of a child



And growing with them in water a shot as bath is the fabulous sacred lotus nelumbo nucifera, the white bowl lotus, the height of which is quite breathtaking



A superb stand of agapanthus inapertus "Midnight", the darkest blue I have ever seen and now on my "must have plants" list!!



Some pics of Powis Castle which need no text to add to their majesty








We had also planned to have a short break in Devon to celebrate Moira's birthday intending to visit Keith Wiley's amazing Wildside Garden, The Garden House, RHS Rosemoor and the long established and legendary Marwood Hill near Barnstaple. Unfortunately the break was even shorter  (just 3 hours) than we planned as the pick up broke down (alternator failure) in the services at Exeter!



So we have to wait for our next break in late September to Malvern Autumn Show  ( a perennial favourite) followed by a dahlia festival at Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire. After that it is the slow decline towards late autumn and the darker nights, wood cutting and keeping the fires stoked. At least we have had a proper summer this year, the memories of which will sustain us throughout the winter.

Just when I thought I ahd finished this marathon News item there was the most fabulous cloud formation that cried out for a picture



And it was almost as impressive reflected in the "Paddock Pond"