A Sensational September

Friday, October 3, 2014

This month's headline is the easiest I have ever had to compose - it says it all! No reservations, no "iffs" and "buts" no "difficult to please gardener", just perfection. So settle back and enjoy September with me. The cooler, wetter August held back many later flowering plants and also delayed second flushes on roses and many herbaceous perennials. When the weather picked up in early September everything went absolutely bonkers and continues to do so. There is more time to enjoy the garden now and to get on with the most important autumn task of all - getting in the firewood for winter. This has been made much easier with the loan of a large log splitter from Rob the lawn guru.

A shot across 2 borders including from front to back, crocosmia "Emily McKenzie", rudbeckia var.sullivantii "Goldsturm", dalias "Karma Choc" and "Wittemans Best" pale pink rosa "Spirit of Freedom" and in the top left hand corner the superb shrub cercis canadensis "Forest Pansy"


With the dry weather I could at last cut up the large oak tree at the top of the hill behind the lodge. It had been an ever present view  since I came here in 1976 and it was sad in some ways to see it reduced to logs in the space of a couple of days. Very hard air dried wood with such a heady scent when cut; even the heart wood in the trunk 4feet in diameter was dry. Counting the rings, which is not that easy in a slow growing tree, revealed that it was approximately 170 years old.

The stark silhouette



Work in progress



And a sad end for a noble tree which yielded 5 tons of prime firewood. Thanks old friend.




Four rain days in the month says all you need to know. The defining weather features were pleasantly mild days and nights, light winds and until the last week of the month no risk of frost. It is officially the driest September for 50 years. Max 21.6c Min 5C


Garden update

I am more relaxed about the gardens at this time of year with no visitors  to prepare for or essential garden tasks to complete. I continue to dead head  and weed when necessary but I don't go overboard. I make plans for next year deciding what changes to make to the borders to keep them looking fresh and in balance, and gather seed and take cuttings before the winter sets in. The lawns I scarified and top dressed last month have been very slow to recover and the seed has not germinated well so there are some embarassing bare patches. This is surprising given the fine weather and all the irrigation I have done. In the end they will probably be OK but it doesn't stop me having some concerns.

Vegetables continue to give great crops in a wide variety (18 in total at present). Sweetcorn is amazing with an average of 2 cobs a plant with the later sown plants now in their prime. Plenty of fine brassicas and Brussels Sprouts,variety "Brilliant", have well formed buttons that are ready to pick. Huge celeriac, courgettes, runner beans and ridge cucumbers coming out of our ears and avenues of tomatoes (35 plants in all) in the tunnels. As good a vegetable year as I can remember and if proof were needed, some of the best cauliflowers and celery I have ever grown. They are generally considered to be 2  of the most difficult vegetables to grow well.

 The archway of tomatoes "Rosada" a small plum, and "Gourmet"  of standard size, which lives up to its name - with superbly flavoured, juicy fruit. A winner from Unwins. The plants are supported by string up to the ridge of the large tunnel (9 feet tall). 12-14 trusses on Rosada, less on Gourmet



Moira's handiwork on the onion ropes "Sturon" a reliable old favourite on the left, and an excellent red which didn't bolt like "Red Baron" but I am embarassed to say I have lost the name of it! Old Age!! The larger onions are taking longer to dry and will be strung in the next couple of weeks.



The final pickiing of pea "Hurst Green Shaft" on 21 September from a late sowing at the end of June. Some mildew towards the end but a good crop. Only 2 rows of 5  achieved this; the others fell prey to mice, rabbits or both.



An incredible crop of courgettes from a mix of green forms and the yellow "Gold Rush". By picking them every day and sharing them with friends and neighbours has ensured we have had no marrows to date and still they are cropping well. The glut has made us look for new recipes which has included Moira's fantastic Courgette and Creme Fraiche Bake with 4 eggs, Gruyere cheese and parsley. Very light in spite of the rich ingredients


Few pests and diseases to worry about with no rabbit or squirrel visitors which is a big plus. A few cabbage white butterflies have succeeded in hatching caterpillars but they were quickly disposed of. The biggest pest for the last 4 months has been red spider mite for which there is no treatment available to non - professionals. It is most prevalent in the polytunnels where its preferred host is brugmansias which are ofetn totally defoliated and yet they still flower. Even outdoors where there has been little rain to deter them,in addition to brugmansias they have also become established on the petunia hanging baskets.


The destructive effect of red spider mite on one of the 7 hanging baskets  around the verandah on 3 sides of the Lodge. 



The borders look so colourful they give us a warm glow every time we walk down them. The absence of rain has ensured that all the plants with upward facing flowers (roses and daisy family members in particular) have held in good condition for far longer than usual, as tricyrtis, hesperantha (Kaffir Lily), sedums and colchicums get into their stride. Shrubs and trees are showing good leaf colour much earlier than last year and there are some fabulous berries in the gardens and wider countryside.

Part of the Paddock shade border which really comes into its own own in autumn with annual and perennial rudbeckias, achillea "Cloth of Gold" and a selection of blue asters



The fine weather has been welcomed by colchicums and it was so good to see "Waterlily" a popular multi petalled form not damaged by any heavy rain. This clump from just one bulb planted about 10 years ago. As I get older I now plant them out in large groups for more instant effect



The  fabulous dolls eye berries of actaea pachypoda, a moist shade lover. Late into growth in late May followed fairly soon after by dainty small bottlebrush flowers to 3 feet



An attractive seed pod belonging to arisaema cilatum liubaense which has done incredibly well for me in the shade border alongside the conservatory. One of about 20 forms of arisaemas dotted around the gardens. Thanks to our friend Tony, owner of a great  nursery www.shadyplants.com



What's looking good?

The usual stalwarts of autumn at Cilgwyn - asters of course in greater numbers and variety than ever before , salvias, colchicums, clematis, dahlias and rudbeckias all revelling in this fabulous weather. Plenty of pics, this time instead of lots of words, a suggestion of one of the regular visitors to our website. Thank you Sylvia!

Part of the long south facing Paddock Border with a dazzling array of asters, hydrangeas, salvias, sedums,  verebena bonariensis and roses



A close up of part of this border feauturing asters of varying heights and colours, the dominant group in the towards the top right hand corner is aster frikartii "Monch" which has become a huge clump from seven plants in just one year. In the foreground are aster nova belgii cultivars. pink "Waterperry" and the red "Helen Ballard". Incidentally some of the aster genus is being re -classified. The most significant change from 2015 is that asters nova belgii and nova angliae (Michaelmas Daisies) are to be known as symphiotichum. Still in the asteraceae family but a new genus.



Not all asters are blue or pink. I have had this lovely white nova belgii form for many years but unfortunately the name is lost. Just enjoy!!: it as Christopher Lloyd once famously remarked when asked by a visitor the name of a phlox planted by his mother. 



 A real taste of autumn comes with the vivid blue of the aconitum carmichaelii in the Cottage Garden Border by the picket fence. It's partner here in a delicate shade of light pink on wiry stems is aster "Star of Chesters" from the wonderful nursery and garden at Old Court Nurseries, Colwall, Worcs.



 A small shrub I am fond of is indigofera in various forms which has proved difficult to get established here. Athough it is hardy it does get badly set back by cold winters and cool summers. This year however it has had just the conditions it likes and has grown well and flowered tremendously. This is one of the best; indigofera howellii with generous late racemes of pink flowers on a bush now 3 feet tall.



The sunny well drained Koi Pond Border with its sharply drained soil is ideal for a whole host of borderline plants especially salvias, together with sedums and kaffir lilies (now hesperantha)



 In this border is this lovely combination of verbena bonariensis, pink salvia imvolucrata and the intense blue of salvia patens "Guaajuato" at over 4 feet tall



The late show with lots of red dahlias in the Red Border - what a surprise!! This border only really comes alive when the dahlia get going, particurlarly the blackish ones which bind all the shades together



Dahlia "Lilac Time"



The elegant and highly sought after late flowering umbellifer selinum wallichianum  with ethereal white frothy flowers and red stems to 5 feet. Likes some shade and retentitive soil



There are over 15 clematis still in flower in the gardens too numerous to list them all.

One that I always show at this time of year is c. rehderiana a very vigorous clematis which spreads far and wide across fence panels and shrubs around the conservatory, Scented it attracts masses of insectsand flowers until late October



Not all clematis are climbers and there are some good herbaceous forms. This one came to me as seed from The British Clematis Society as c. tubulosa which is more like a shrub with permanent woody base and lovely urn shaped bliue flowers late summer and autumn.



And this one is c. x jouiniana a scrambling herbaceous form covering the framework of a cut back scabious cephalaria gigantea, an early summer flowering perennial



Countryside and wildlife

The dominant feature of early autumn has been how quickly this year many of the native shrubs and trees have changed colour, and what an amazing crop there is of berries and nuts. Hawthorns are on fire with deep red berries and there are masses of blackberries and rosehips. Guelder rose berries in hedges and roadside verges and even early in the month the leaf colour on elders and spindle trees (euonymus europeus) was spectacular. The dry weather also meant that some trees and shrubs started dropping their leaves before they even started to colour.

With the drier weather butterflies returned at last, although not in huge numbers as might have been expected. I was so pleased at last to see some Painted Ladies making a bee -line! for the asters. Small tortoiseshells and Meadow Browns were numerous too but that was about it. Bees in variety were of course active most days principally on sedums, asters and verbena bonariensis.

A Painted Lady on aster amellus "Sonora"



Since I have started on the firewood it seems that almost every log I turn over in the woodpile has something of interest underneath it, some very mundane like woodlice or ground beetles, but often a developing frog or toad from this years breeding.

Two herons are regular visitors along the riverbank at the bottom of the garden, along with dippers and grey wagtails. I haven't seen or heard a kingfisher for a couple of months. I have  however seen a sparrowhawk coursing the hedges round the gardens, striking terror into most birdlife, even the pesky magpies which go around in menacing groups of up to ten birds. 

The mild nights have seen plenty of moths on the wing and it was so good recently to have Julian Wormald a moth expert from Gelli Uchaf,  as a supper guest who was able to make positive identifications for us and our other guests. Read his hilarious blog about one particular encounter  on his  fascinating website at www.thegardenimpressionists.wordpress.com  -go toTag archive 7/9/2014 entitled Canary Shouldered Thorn moth

 Dusky Thorn moth an additional guest at the supper table!



Visits and visitors

The gardens have now closed until June 2015 when we will be opening  once again, by prior arrangement, for the National Gardens Scheme. If you would like to make an early booking for the date you require please get in touch. Please note that late June and the whole of July are usually the 2 most busy times

A visit to Picton Castle near Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire early in the month was an absoloute delight, as always. It prides itself quite rightly on being a garden for all seasons as there is always something special to see with an excellent cafe and plants for sale from material in the garden. It exudes passion, variety, originality and a high standard of maintenance -  quite an achievement in a 40 acre garden. For these reasons it is, in our view,  one of the best gardens in the whole of Wales. As it closes at the end of September make sure you pay a visit when it opens again in April next year. It was a pleasure at last to meet the head gardener Roddy Milne at a recent NGS function and to have the opportunity to congratulate him and the trustees on all the fine work they are doing there.

Gay abandon and free form planting in theTropical Garden at Picton Castle



Lovely struture and form in the Walled Garden



Another visit was to the coast at last, for some ozone and sand between the toes as perfectly evoked in Dylan Thomas' poem "August Bank Holiday" :... " a slap of sea and a tickle of sand"

The wonderfully named Poppit Sands near Cardigan



Right at the mouth of the River Teifi, one of the great rivers of Wales, there is a huge expanse of sand at low tide looking across to to the superbly sited Cliff Hotel, Gwbert on the cliffs opposite



And the jewel in Cardigan Bay is Aberystwyth, now recovered from the storms of last winter which saw it featured on almost every news bulletin. Who can forget the pictures of some of these houses being battered by the waves. The only battering we saw on a glorious day was the superb fish and chips in the promenade cafe!


The garden talks season has started in earnest with 4 talks during the month as far apart as St Clears in the west and Llangynidr in the east  - all well attended and received. The most popular talk this season is "50 of My Favourite  Hardy Perennials" reflecting a resurgence of interest in the growing of perennials. Please  get in touch if you would like me to give a talk to your club or society. For further details see under the heading Nursery, Teas and Talks - see the tabs on the home page of this website.

In the last weekend of the month we had another short break going to Malvern Autumn Show, Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire and Aston Pottery in Oxfordshire - all for plant related inspiration. A few pics below but more at the end of October when there will be fewer visits on which to report..


Colourful visitors mingling with even more colourful dahlias at Kelmarsh Hall



Exceptional structure and colour at Aston Pottery



And yet more fabulous dahlias at Aston with asters and grasses