A month of extremes

Friday, June 1, 2012

Following on from a difficult April, another very challenging month in the garden with extremes of temperatures from below zero to sub-tropical, frequent heavy rain until mid month and cold northerly winds. Extremes too in the vegetable garden with brassicas and lettuces doing well under the fleece, but all small seeds (carrots beetroot and parsnips failing and having to be re-sown recently) and potatoes set back by the late frosts.


A good stand of brassicas grown under fleece. Invaluable for earlier crops.



Things have picked up well in the last week thanks to the sunshine and warmth as welcome for us as the plants. This has prompted me to set up Moira's free standing swimming pool, a sure sign that the weather will take a turn for the worse! The conservatory is habitable and all the major works are completed. We are really enjoying it and with floor to ceiling glass it is nice to be "inside but out" with lovely views all round.



Weather report.

A min of -1C on three nights mid month, 2 days of 29C in the last week, and some very mild nights too. Rain was frequent early on and generally of the torrential kind which raised our river to its highest levels of the year. 


Garden update

With the conservatory works taking a lot of time it has been difficult to keep on top of all the myriad of tasks demanded of the gardener in May, without coubt the busiest month of the year. A lot of time consuming jobs like putting out fleece on  colder nights and watering the nursery and recent plantings twice a day has  eaten into time for work in the nursery, mowing lawns, and weeding borders - the continual battle with weeds has accelerated with the arrival of warmer weather. If it isn't done the annual weeds will shed their seeds and another generation will be waiting to spring up within a few weeks. 

It's not all gloom and doom because there is that glorious freshness that comes with the May garden and all the promise of all the good things to come as the herbaceous plants fill out and a few start to come into flower. A first cut of broccoli (only sown in mid April!) and lettuce (mixed salad leaves and Little Gem lettuce) was very welcome and is always a special event in the garden calendar.

Mice have decimated all sowings of peas and there is occasional damage to a wide variety of plants from rabbits. Can mice read? I swear that within less than a week of sowing, just as the peas soften and start to sprout, the mice instinctively know this and move in for the feast. How else do they know this other than by reading the labels?

Moira managed to dead head all the hellebores before the seed was shed so less seedlings to trouble us next year. However if you have some choice forms it is relativley easy to gather the seed just before it is shed, sow in pots in some good compost, cover with grit and keep somewhere cool and shaded, and you could have some good germination and little plants to pot on next spring but they may not come true to their parents. Please note mice can also read hellebore pot labels! 

Germination of seeds in the propagating tunnel has been very good and there is still plenty of pricking out and potting on to do. It has however quitened down since the peak activity in April.


What's looking good?

So much at this time of year its impossible to name them all but the colours of the month must surely be yellows and blues!  Lupins, delphiniums, hardy geraniums, violas, clematis, hostas (leaves) and aquilegias to name just a few that contribute so much to these colour spectrums.


A marvellous seed grown species, clematis patens sown in 2005



Yellow tree lupin (lupinus arborecens)



 Such an exciting time of year with something new coming into flower every day.


Aquilegias have been magnificiient  in a wide range of colours and forms. Some from my own seed have shown striking variations from the parent plants, and in one or two cases very desirable size or colours.  Hybrids showing such variation being very common in the rununculacea family (buttercups) to which aquilegias belong. One goup flowering for the first time with me has been the McKenna Giant hybrids, tall with large flowers and long spurs in a great range of colours including numerous bicolours. A hybrid group far removed from the "Grannys Bonnets" frequently considered by many gardeners to be the "type" plant in the aquilegia genus. 


A collection of fine aquilegias in the nursery



Bearded iris although much later than some previous years have been stunning and enjoyed the sunshine and lack of rain and wind. Being the tall forms of bearded iris they usually flop and need staking but not this year. They have a most delicate yet alluring perfume unlike any other flower scent I know which is heightened in warm sunshine



Various forms of moisture loving primulas are putting on a tremedous show, particularly the candelabra types. Waterlilies too are starting to grow away since the warm weather came as is the blanketweed which will need urgent attention soon.




Oriental poppies are just coming into bloom with my all time favourite "Beauty of Livermere", a stunning true red, the star performer.


Just in case you are bored of blue and yellow flowers, what about this for "in your face" red?


Many viburnums and cornus are flowering now, a particularly attractive cultivar being V. sargentiana "Onadanga" with lacecaps rather like a small Hydragea serrata

It's good to see some overwintered dahlias coming thorugh especially in the Red Border, and my old friend of 12 years, impatiens tinctoria of which I have waxed lyrically about in News items in previous years, has come through another winter.

Hostas have recovered from the ravages of April and look well now, particularly the dwarf and small varieties which I planted only last year in a small half shaded rock garden near to the house, a good way to display the smaller forms of which there is an increasing range but expensive number.




These are just some of the many good looking things and there are plenty more to come in June.


Wildlife and countryside

Just as with the plant kingdom there is so much happening now in the animal kingdom. A pair of pied wagtails successfully raised a brood of six chicks which flew last week (only 12 days to fledge before they were capable of flying - incredible!) 2 almost immediately were picked off by the ever rapacious magpies, but the others have survived and we have seen them regularly in the gardens. They are lovely unassuming birds which appear to run more than they walk and eat prodigous quantities of insects. 

Regular sightings of redstarts in the hedgerows, red kites in profusion but no sightings of the pied flycatchers after the territorial battle with the blue tits over the nest box in the old alder.

The warmer weather has brought out a variety of damselflies which always show before their larger dragonfly cousins. As yet though no blue demoiselles, my favourite damselflies. Some mayflies on the wing during the warmest weather and quite a rare sight here. Tadpoles of the frog variety have grown large and there are some already at the four leg stage leaving the water briefly on wetter days.

Staying close by the water I observed a very funny sight last week. Two mallards were rooting quietly about in the field across the river when a Dorset ewe took umbrage with them and started to chase them. If you have ever seen a mallard tring to run it is funny enough but chased by a sheep it reaches new heights of comedy. It was a stop/start affair that lasted  a good few minutes before the ducks had enough and flew off. I was in stitches by that time!

Wild flowers everywhere with a wide variety including the ubiquitous "moon" daisies, ladies smock (cardamine pratensis) flowering for a long time in he cooler weather daisies, ragged robin, some orchids including early spotted and southern marsh orchids (dactylorhizza praetermissa), yellow vetch and others too numerous to list.


Our friends Anne  and Philip have a field full of the most incredible range of wildflowers in 3 habitats:- woodland, open upland grassland and marshy ground where Ladies smock, meadow buttercups and wild forget-me-nots sit in perfect harmony. Nature always does it best.




Visits and visitors

It seems strange this year to have no visits booked for early June but it has taken the pressure off whilst we do all the tidying up work following completion of the conservatory. We are behind with some of our plantings as a consequence so the break will give us time to complete this before our first visitors arrive later this summer.

Our talk at the Spring Festival at The Royal Welsh Showground went well but there was a very sparse attendance which reflected the general lack of footfall in the horticultural areas of the show although other areas seemed very well supported. Hope the Main RWS in July goes better from the horticultural perspective and especially my talk on Growing Vegetables.

Rmemember if you would like to visit the gardens during mid August - end of September please get in touch. The garden nursery is however open most of the time but just please give us a call to let us know when you would like to come to make sure we will be at home.