A Spring Symphony

Thursday, April 30, 2015

On 29th March I began my 40th year at Cilgwyn Lodge. I don't know where the time has gone but spring has always been special here, surrounded as we are by open fields full of sheep and lambs and bluebells everywhere. There used to be curlews and lapwings,  hares too, but sadly no more. Cuckoos have rarley been heard in the last 15 years. Otherwise April continues to delight us with its unique quality of light,  the indelible freshness of new grass and the breaking of buds. It is also a time to reflect on what we have achieved in the gardens. Fortunately we have "before and after" pictures. There is so much to celebrate in April but there is often a sting in the tail too. Not for nothing is April dubbed "the cruelest month.

Cilgwyn Lodge 25 August 1969



Cilgwyn Lodge May 2009




The weather pattern established in March has continued throughout April with some fine days but consistently cold nights. Plenty of sunshine but precious little rain, our weather for the most part coming from an easterky direction as it often does at this time of year. There were  11 daytime temperatures above 15C (max 19.2C on 10 April) and 16 night temperatues below 4C (min -3C on 27th). It is the sort of weather that is really fabulous for everyone except gardeners and farmers!!


Garden Update

The fine weather at last enabled us to really get cracking on the gardens with rotovating of the vegetable beds completed on 10th and potatoes all planted a week later. Nine varieties from earlies, salad types to maincrops - 17 rows in all. I also planted out early brassicas good old Hispi and Greyhound cabbage, cauliflower Snowball , lettuce, onions and shallots. All later than normall but I have long since learned to wait until the soil has properly warmed up before planting and sowing.

Completion of potato planting


Plenty more to go out in the next couple of weeks. Tender vegetables like beans, sweetcorn, cougettes, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers all growing away well now in the polytunnels for planting out mid -late May. Late frosts here are not uncommon here, even  once in 1993 on 4 June which wrecked the potato crop and browned off all the new growth in the hedgerows.

In the nursery Moira has been busy pricking out masses of seedlings and repotting tender plants, iincluding the large succulent collection she has built up over the years. It was interesting that when re-potting them out of over 50 plants she only found 2 which which were infected with vine weevil grubs. Succulents appear to be their no.1 host plants here. However I read the other day that these tiny grubs are capable in huge numbers of decimating mature woody  plants like rhododendrons and even yews. Outdoors they are very difficult to identify and control although excessively notched leaves on a host plant is perhaps the most reliable means. Plants in pots are easier and there are chemical, biological and natural predator remedies available to home gardeners.

Some of the seedlings awaiting pricking out. I am particularly pleased by the success of lilium martagon seed of which there are 24 pots of seedlings from 2013 onwards. I don't prick these out until they are at least 2 years old by which time they have formed a transplantable small bulb - then it is only a couple of years or so before they flower. Patience is a virtue in gardening!



Currrently I am turning over and lightly feeding with pelletted chicken manure all the flower borders, taking care no to damage plants that have not yet broken into growth (overwintered dahlias, lilies, hostas, for example). Visitors to the gardens are often surprised that we do not feed more than that but if you feed too much nitrogenous material they  get too lush and you have floppy stems that need excessive staking and foliage at the expense of flowers.  As soon as they are through I can see where the gaps are and then infill them with plants from the nursey including the many annuals we have grown. New forms of that wonderful umbellifer ammi majus are being tried this year having seen them on our travels last summer. And the wildflower seed from Pictorial Meadows reported upon last month were sown in the past week. 


What's looking good?

Just too much!! So many lovely things all over the gardens - the sights of spring are easier to convey than the scents. Viburnums are great value plants for spring as there are so many to choose from none better for me than viburnum Carlesii Also good for slighly later are viibirnum "Juddii" and v. plicatum with its attractive tiered branches.

Viburnum carlesii


Perhaps even better is the smell of freshly cut grass and rain on sun warmed soil, or the earthy smell of growth when you open the polytunnel doors first thing in the morning.

Now here are some pics of the best of the very best.

Semiaquilegia adoxoides from Hardy Plant Society Seed Exchange 2014. A real head turner that was a big hit in Dorset a few weeks ago. Delicate and dainty and only a foot tall, it resembles the flower of clematis alpina a close relative. 



Lysichiton americanus ; not called the skunk cabbage for nothing - like it or not it is a distinctive odour! Marvellous though in a stream garden as here but it can become invasive



A new plant to me last year which is revelling in the celebrity status afforded to umbellifers at present - just see Chelsea if you don't believe me - melanoselenium decipiens from the laurel forests of Madeira. Not totally hardy here this one had the luxury of a heated tunnel all winter and what a show it is putting on. 4 feet tall on a thick trunk it has mildly perfumed umbels of white tinged purple flowers. Lovely form and habit too. It may prove to be monocarpic so I hope it is generous with fertile seeds.





If you are a regular visitor to our website and many thanks if you are - at 12.15 am it is a comnfort to know you keep up to date! you will know how passionate I am about hostas and I was recently honoured to be asked to write an article for the 2015 edition of the Journal for The British  Hosta and Hemerocallis Society. I love them at all stages of their growth especially in Spring just as the pips are beginning to appear, such a wide range of forms and colours. These belong to an older cultivar "Krossa Regal" a large elegant bluish green form.



And what a stunner this one is in its first flush of the most amazing loud yellow which gradually fades to green durring the summer. It is " Golden Aerial" and an eagerly awaited favourite of mine.



And growing close by in the woodland garden is a British native, euphorbia robbieae with intense lime green bracts in spring. It looks good with its companion planting of bluebells, brunneras and cammassias. It can be very invasive but is checked here to some extent by the very poor soil and well established tree roots.



In complete contrast is the beautiful and elegant Belarina primrose "Pink Ice" which in spite of its delicate looks is bone hardy and floriferous over the whole of late winter and all of Spring. 



Herbaceous lathyrus vernus a good free standing pea to 18"; great for the front of a border with other spring flowering plants. Slow growing but a welcome addition in  humus rich soil in sun or part shade



I am not a huge fan of rhododendrons and azaleas but we do have a few in the gardens although I don't doubt they would do well here, this in yer face deep pink has been putting on a show every year since 1987 when the small pond which it surrounds was made. I rather like it and being so close to the house it makes quite a statement.



The earliest of all the arisaemas we have in the gardens is A. nepenthoides. The flowers come well before the leaves and are susceptible to frost so it needs to be covered with fleece on colder nights. It is not the most spectacular flower compared to many in the genus but place if where the late afternoon sun can shine through it and it is transformed into a thing of intricate beauty.



 Good old down to earth vegetable purple sprouting broccoli is cropping incredibly well and with 7 five feet tall plants there is more than enough for us and our friends and neighbours. 



I much prefer the later daffodils than most of the large flowered forms which seem to adorn almost every road verge near to any centre of population. They seem so incogruous when compared to huge drifts of native forms in woods that I knew in Gloucestershire. Pale lemon yellow on short stout stems they are an absolut delight. I do however prefer the later daffodil culktivars such as the poeticus group,  the jonquills and the late cyclamineus all of which are a delight.

A long time favourite is cyclamineus "Jenny" which gives almost a month of interest starting a good lemon yellow and gradually fading to pure white



And I surprise myself that I like this one which is a little fussy perhaps but has a nice habit and an ever changing colour palette as it ages - a slight scent too. I give you "Hill Star". A jonquilla type. Another good form in this Division is "Pipit", more floriferous and refined paler yellow too.



We were delighted recently to be given a very special gift by our good friends Robert and Barry. One of the 888,246 memorial poppies from the display at the Tower of London last autumn. It is piece of history to treasure, to remind us of the horrors of the First World War and has a special place in the border at the front of the conservatory



Wildlife and countryside

As the days lengthen, become warmer and new life is created everywhere, there is a surge of activity all around us. The most obvious are the lambs in the fields in their hundreds enjoying their all too brief spell of "La dolce vita". The bleating of lambs and admonishing calls from their mothers can be deafening at times!

The blossom on the blackthorn has been amazing and long lived throughout March and April. A vintage crops of sloes to flavour our gin this autumn!


More quietly and almost imperceptably on 23 April was the return of the swallows, an always anticipated event in the yearly wildlife calendar. Plenty of other bird activity too in the hedgerows with many birds now nesting and fledglings appearing day on day. The first blackbird chicks were seen on 14 April keeping close to their parents and trying to avoid the malicious attention of a pair of magpies nesting in the fir trees with young of their own to feed and troubled recently by crows. Green woodpeckers heard but not seen in the valley. but no pied wagtails yet. Adult blackbirds are by far the most frequent and loudest singers, usually in the evening from the uppermost branches of one of the two large apple trees.

In the bright sunshine plenty of butterflies on the wing including small tortoishells (always the first) followed by red admirals, commas, orange tips and meadow browns. A good start.

A comma on a hellebore leaf


Wildflowers have been at their absolute best with wood anemones, celandines, stitchwort, violets, magnificent primroses in what must surely be a bumper year, and latterly  in woodlands and shady banks huge drifts of bluebells and wild garlic.

Violets in long grass at the edge of an oak wood



A double form of anemone nemerosa called "Vestal" at Cilgwyn Lodge. The wild form in the hedgerows and woods is equally impressive but devilishly difficult to photagraph in dappled shade



Bluebells in a vintage year for them



A growing colony of primroses by the fingerpost at the end of our lane



They look even better in  close up


In the Paddock Pond all tadpoles have hatched but the pondweed is so thick we can scarcely see them, but it keeps them safe from predators. We introduecd a few more fish into the pond during the month with a consignment of 30 crucian carp and 20 mirror carp. Many people with wildlife ponds will not have fish in their ponds but I do not find that they materially reduce the richness of all layers of living organisms in the pond as they are part of the natural order of things whose offspring is preyed upon in the same way as all the other residents in the pond. And we still have our mallards and a resident heron or two just to show everyone else who is in charge!

After floating the bags the fish were transported in to equalise the water temperatures, the fish were released to the pond. In the murky water you can just see a Crucian Carp. All the fish were 4 - 6 inches long




Apart from our visit to Dorset reported upon earlier this month, we also gave talks in Narberth, Reynoldston on the Gower Peninsular and Kidwelly.  where I gave the first performance of my latest talk entitled  "Gardens I Have Known and Loved". It  turned out to have more content than I first envisaged with so many wonderful  gardens to showcase that I am preparing a second talk under the same heading but featuring gardens in the Cotswolds and Midlands (the first one covers gardens in the south and west of England and Wales). With so many slides available this could be a a long running series!

April is such a busy time of year that that there is rarely any time left to go garden visiting but on Sunday 25th in glorious sunshine we went to the Glanusk Estate near Crickhowell just off the A40, opening for the NGS. One of the largest private estates in Wales there  is plenty to see not just the rolling acres of shrub and tree "borders", but also the panoramic views from a sheltered elevated position. Plus a great atmosphere and plenty of stalls selling a range of crafts and gardening related items and delicious food - particularly memorable were the best burgers I have  ever tasted all  components locally sourced and generously filled. It makes you realise how good a burger can be - large chains please take note!

Views from the gardens at Glanusk






To round off a very rare Sunday outing we drove on to Monmouth and the excellent Millbrook Garden Centre, privately owned, an increasingly rare entity these days, and with many of the plants grown on site. Just plants and all things gardening unlike all the other paraphanelia usually encounterd in most garden centres. Well sourced and reasonably priced and some little treasures always waiting to be discovered by discerning gardeners. Helpful amd knowledgeable staff too, Long may it floursih and the cosy cafe on site.