All the joys of early Spring

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Although variable weather was a feature of the month, it did not hold back the advance of Spring.  Right on cue, there were lambs everywhere, frog tadpoles hatching, grass growing, the first magnolias, longer daylight hours, and in the gardens and surrounding countryside all the plants we expect to see at this time of year. A much earlier spring than last year.







One of the cornerstone plants is of course the daffodil. They are so bright and cheerful even on the most gloomy of days. They have been revered over the centuries in verse and celebrated in events across the UK. I have however encountered numerous gardeners over the years for whom the yellow peril is just too much for them and they avoid planting them; and it isn't only daffodils, but all yellow plants at any other time of year. Poor souls!!

Up against a intensely yellow  house wall it adds insult to injury!


Every year there are more and more daffodil along roadside verges which is fine with me, unless they are planted in straight lines or are inappropriate to their setting (like large trumpet types), as they flop over with heavy rain or strong winds.

For years I have appreciated the daffodils in gardens, hedges and farm drives in and around our local community of Myddfai but never really looked closely at them. This year however all that changed when I was alerted to the  fact that within Carmarthenshire there is an unusual double daffodil commonly known locally as the "Derwydd" daffodil, which was first identified some years ago by botanists in the garden of the  Mansion house of that name, not far from the village of Llandybie, 15 miles away from us. Botanically it is called Thomas Viriscent. Don't get too excited because some authorities have labelled it "the most ugly daffodil in the world"!

There is considerable variation in the flowers between individual plants and sometimes on the same plant! Streaks  of green are regularly found in the flower and is one of the main identification features.

This is just one flower head!


Others to my eye are really quite attractive.


 And this one is so different you wonder if it is the same form. The are many other variations if you study them close enough


Armed with pictures and much information from internet searches, I was amazed to find this daffodil at 11 sites within 3 miles from us  ranging from fields, hedgerows, derelict buildings, graveyards and gardens, including Gelli Mydog, owned by friends Robert and Barry, where it is the dominant daffodil in a property that is almost 200 years old.

There are suggestions on the Internet that it might be a wild daffodil common to parts of West Wales,  a double form of narcissus obvallaris, the Tenby daffodil or our other native daffodil N. pseudonarcissus. However most authorities consider it to be a variant of a daffodil known as narcissus "Telamonius Plenus", a cultivar first recorded 450 years ago. Forms of this cultivar can be found as far away as USA and Australia.

If all this wasn't complicated enough there is yet another similar, very old registered cultivar called "Von Sion" introduced about the same time by a Dutchman of that name. No wonder it is all Dutch to me!

This very neat, tight double appears in some of the groups I have found and there is a suggestion that this may be the true form of "Von Sion"


 More variations!




We may never know how they came into being or how they  became distributed around local communities far away from centres of horticulture - I feel more detective work coming on!!

As far as I can ascertain there has been no genetic testing of material from the various forms, assuming of course each of them can be reliably identified! So we are left with a conundrum which may never be resolved and various forms of a daffodil that you may like or not. And just recently on the outskirts of Kidwelly, one of the oldest towns in Wales, we were introduced to the daffodil again along the drive to an old farmstead  near to our friend Jenny. who has the woodland full of snowdrops I wrote about last month. 


If you really want to know more, just type Narcissus Telamonius Plenus into you search engine and if you have the time, interrogate all the pages you can find! There are several nurseries stocking it if you would like to try some.



 Wind as you would expect in March was a predominant feature: when it came from the east as it often does at this time of year, we had generally fine days and cold nights and when in turned more southerly it was warmer but with some very heavy rain. There were 24 days with rain or showers, 5 air frosts  min -3C,  a max temperature  of 16.7C on 30th and 13 other days above 10C.

Very heavy rain on 20th was the heaviest for some months and caused minor flooding in the Towy Valley a few miles from us although we were OK


 But there were some fine days too.


Garden Update

First mowing of the lawns is always a special time for me (yes I am that nuts!) as it immediately makes the garden look better, even more so when the lawn edges are trimmed. Lowering the setting each time I mow, I completed my 4th cut just before the month end. I have mentioned in previous news items the benefits of winter high potash and phosphate lawn feed once in late October and once, if the weather permits,one in late January, to keep the grass strong and green.


The vegetable garden is now mostly cleared of overwintered crops and it is that lean time of year with nothing left to harvest and only a few root crops still in store. I limed the beds 2 months ago, except those destined for potatoes. Hopefully the ground will dry out more in April to permit rotovating. On the evidence of last years sowings when I didn't commence until the last week of April, I will let the ground properly warm up before sowing. If you sow root vegetables in particular too early and it turns cold and wet, the seeds often die before the germinate

The mammoth task of weeding and tidying all the flower borders is all but completed thank goodness, ably assisted by friends Bob and Annette who gave us a whole day of their valuable time. Bob is the most particular weeder you could ever see,  even using a dining fork to remove the tiniest weeds! They live right at the end of the Gower peninsular where they grow a whole range of exotic plants outdoors and this year, amongst many frost tender plants, they have flowered proteas and leucodendrons outdoors. They had no frosts at all from November to March!! 

The Koi Pond border after Bob's efforts


Propagation is well under way from divisions, cuttings and seeds, and although I vowed to cut back on this aspect of my gardening life, I just can't stop myself! The polytunnel benches are filling rapidly and it is time to move out to frames the plants I overwintered under protection, making more room for cuttings and seedlings No surely not-I didn't say that did I?!!



Division of mature plants from stock or in the gardens is done in Feb and March, but what is this monster- like an escapee from a sci fi film? Answer at the end. Clue it is not my brain. It has never been possible to find it!



What's looking good?

After all that text some pics now and for those yellow haters, sorry there are plenty of them!!

 But to soften the blow how about  this lovely persian carpet bedding with polyanthus in one of the main streets of Carmarthen



Corylopsis spicata a good spreading shrub with primrose yellow flowers relative of the native hazels so is a good doer.



 One of the best shrubs for scent at this time of year is the genus viburnum and for me the most highly scented is V. carlesii



 A charming woodlander is hacquetia epipactis



 First flowers on lysichiton americanus the "skunk cabbage" vivid  yellow spathes and very vigorous. Because of its in vasive habit it can no longer legally be sold or planted but existing plants are OK


 Epimediums are delightful in part shade and we have several forms here but none I can name.



The complex arrangement of the flowers give them the common name of Bishops Hat. Also known as Fairy Wings and Barren Wort.



Cyclaminus hybridus division 6 are my favourite group in the genus and "Trena" is as good as it gets



N. "Jenny" has clumped up really well since planting 20 years ago. Starting with a lemon yellow trumpet it ages to white.



Wildlife and Countryside 

The whole valley is full of the sights and sounds of lambing. with lambs doing all the things their forebears did, including head butting, racing and chasing, seeing who can jump the highest and who can pinch milk from the nearest ewe, who may or most likely may not be their mother. I could watch their antics all day long. Such a short life for many of them but surely a happy one making the most of every day.

Making plans for the day!


Bird song all day long on fine days,  the main contributions coming from blacbirds, thrush, robins, wrens and the pesky magpies (hardly birdsong more like a machine gun), which once again are nesting in the large fir trees in the Paddock Garden.

Bull Finches seem less common now than they were some years ago and I had a good opportunity to study one at close quarters when it hit one of the windows of the conservatory, in spite of all the bird scarers we have in the windows. Fortunately after some hand warming - always a good way to revive a semi conscious bird - no damage was done. Researching later on the web I discovered a survey by one of the bird charities that their numbers are down 30%. No clear reasons emerged from the survey. They used to be shot or trapped on fruit farms because of all the damage they can do to emerging flower buds. 

The female bullfinch fully recovered, is rather dowdy compared to the male, but nevertheless is the boss when it comes to their relationship! True honestly


All the frog spawn has hatched with tadpoles everywhere you look around the Paddock Pond edge. A vast improvement over last year when following a sharp frost on the newly laid spawn there were none to be found in the pond. It makes you wonder where all the frogs came from this year



Toads by contrast are nowhere to be seen, just 4 one night in the Paddock Pond. It was very different 15 or more years ago when returning home from the office, having swerved to avoid them, I would regularly go up and down our lane with buckets and a torch and in the space of 15 minutes or so could fill the buckets with them for transferance to the pond. It would be interesting to know if other people with ponds have had a similar experience of much reduced numbers.



 After last month's seemingly endless round of outings, only 2 in March - on 2 consecutive days!

Just a part of the very large nursery at Ashwood's which has many other plant producing green houses and tunnels.


A trip to Ashwood Nurseries, Kingswinford West Midlands is always special and we have been going there for 25 years. On this occasion however it was extra special as our friend Richard Bramley of Farmyard Nurseries had arranged a day with John Massey, a horticultural legend and world renowned plantsman who formed the company 50 years ago. Richard, Matt one of his staff and I had a very warm welcome from John who in spite of a busy schedule in his anniversary year, gave us a guided tour of his 3.5 acre gardens which as you can imagine is packed with masses of rare and unusual plants, followed by a masterclass on his huge collection of hepaticas.

L - R Richie, John and Me (not my most elegant pose!)


 Over lunch he regaled us with plant and people stories from all his years in horticulture. Good humoured, engaging, incredibly knowledgeable and holder of the RHS Victoran Medal of Honour, he seems totally unaffected by all his achievements. It was an unforgettable experience. To discover more about John and the nursery go to

In all I took 150 pics so it was quite a challenge to find just a few to give a taste of the day.






Trillium albidum


 A particularly fine pink erythronium Harvington strain




Part of the hepatica collection which won Gold medal and Best in Show awards at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016


 Just a few of the thousands in the main dedicated greenhouse







Many of the Japanese forms in particular have some amazing marbling on the leaves which makes them very collectable



 For my taste "Stained Glass" is the most attractive and most unusual



 A lovely  pic of John in full flow about his beloved hepaticas.



Having started with daffodils it seems only right to finish the March News with them.  This time  we were on the trail of the true wild British daffodil - narcissus pseudonarcissus which unlike the Derwydd Daffodil is a species with proven authenticity.

Newent in Gloucestershire was our destination, and in particular the golden triangle between Dymock, Kempley and Oxenhall . Along the road verges, fields, in churchyards and woods they can be found, often in the company of some our best loved wild spring flowers.








At the edge of a ditch alongside a road we found this charming grouping with  caradamine pratensis (Ladies Smock or Cuckoo Flower) in the palest shade of lavender which was difficult to capture on a dull grey day. Also in the mix but hidden in the long grass were violets and wood anemones



 There is form of wood anemone in the area which seems more vigorous then those in our part of the world, with larger more intense white flowers. Possibly the result of growing in incredibly rich red sandstone soil or is it a different clone?


The local villages hold daffodil walks over several weekends  in March and April, with local guides and teas served, but on any day of the week,you can make your own way by car, along the lanes, on foot across fields on public footpaths and in woodlands. For more information go to  In Oxenhall there is a final daffodil weekend on 8 and 9 April. Type  Oxenhall Daffodil weekends 2017 into your search engine to find out more

As I said at the beginning they are much loved in those areas of the UK where they predominate, and in Gloucestershire, of which it is the county flower, there are charming tales many years ago of local schoolchildren helping to pick them at weekends for sale in London to make money for the local  communities. Although of course it is now illegal to pick wildflowers on this scale, what a lovely way for children to spend their spare time, knee deep in nature in the great outdoors, a memory of my own chidhood that still burns deep within me

 Finally the answer to the earlier question is that the plant in the picture is a large clump of tubers from impatiens flananganae which yielded 11 separate divisons for potting up, which like a dahlia should flower later this year. Being only just hardy it needs humus rich soil in a protected situation in part shade. Pink flowers to 4 feet tall

An exceptionally long News this month so many thanks for reading and happy gardening at the best time of year.