Apologies for the delay in posting April news

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A new laptop and loading all my files has delayed the publication of April news so this is a Late Spring edition. Late in both senses! the weather has been very challenging and it was a disappointing April with a string of frosts then 2 weeks of drought before the rains came - just in time for my newly sown grass seed (more in Garden Update). We still have some daffodils in bloom in spite of 2 warm days last week, and as my neighbour Meirion used to say, the better weather won't come until we see the back of those yellow buggers!! How right he was. (although the poeticus type now in flower are white with a tiny orange eye and rather nice)


The Paddock Garden lawn last week looking a lot better than it did 7 weeks ago ( see March news), Close inspection will however reveal quite a few bare patches but they are filling fast.




Cold, windy, dry, sometimes sunny, and latterly very wet it has not been good growing weather but just a few warmer days in early May brought on growth so that at last the trees are coming into leaf, some of them a month later than normal. If it means anything the oak is before the ash which in old folklore was said to predict a good summer - we shall see!

11 frosts in April minimum temperature -6C; max 17. So far in May 2 frosts and our warmest day of the year at 23C on 7 May. We need a lot more of this if the gardening year is to catch up


Garden update

The lawns have been a concern following the major make over in late March. It took nearly 4 weeks for the topdressed seed to germinate but at last the greening up process has begun. With our first visitors due in early June there is a lot of growing still to be done.

Vegetable sowing has been slow because I was determined not to make the mistake of last year by sowing too soon so my first seeds in the ground were carrots and beetroots on 28 April. Potatoes have only just started to appear but early cabbages, broccoli and cauliflowers under horticulutural fleece are undaunted by the weather. 

The usual manic activity in the nursery - always some pricking out and potting on to be done and late sowings of winter brassicas and tender vegetables to be made. We are really on top of the nursery because there have been many days when it has been unsuitable to work on the beds and borders. The polytunnels and frames are bursting as it has been too cold to move many plants outside.


The packed benches in the propagation tunnel, the last of over 300 varieties of seed sown this year



It has been difficult to find a suitable compost (now called growing media) for seed sowing and small seedlings so I have started to make my own again. There is considerable debate about the use of peat in horticulture but believe me when you want reliability, ease of watering and good growth there is nothing to touch it. I have recently been making my compost mix based on peat, sterilised top soil and grit/sharp sand (the old fashioned John Innes formula). Growth patterns are a big improvement - some of the composts I was using earlier in the year were quite frankly rubbish. You opened the bag and the smell was often disgusting, much of the make up of the bag being shredded wood or still composting green manures.

The major yearly task of weeding, feeding and tidying all the flower borders was completed during April - it takes me in excess of 2 weeks to do this but the effort is worthwhile. I am one of those nuts that actually enjoys weeding usually with a hand fork and on my knees:they tell me at night that I shouldn't be doing this at my time of life! However it  gives me the chance to inspect the condition of emerging plants and to note where division or re-planting may be necessary.


What's looking good?

The cool spring has been welcomed by many early flowering plants. A star performer has been the erythoniums (dogs tooth violets/trout lilies) of which we have several large clumps. In warm springs they are here and gone in about 10 days but they have continued to flower for nearly a month this year.


A large clump of erythronium "Pagoda" probably 15 years old, with narcissus poeticus in the background and one of the last hellebores



It has been the year of the wood anemone in the woods and hedgerows. A member of the buttercup family they appreciate cool moist conditions, and those in the garden have done just as well and are still flowering strongly. Pulmonarias too have flowered for longer than normal making a pleasing planting combination with the anemones which share a similar environment.


Anemone nemerosa "Vestal" with pulmonaria "Lewis Palmer" 



There are  good clematis in the Atragene Section (particularly alpinas, macropetallas and Koreana group). Many of these I have grown from seed from The British Clematis Society distribution. You have to be patient and some of those now flowering well for the first time were sown in 2007! I have had some very good unusual forms from seed labelled " Koreana mixed" , mostly in the pink / white spectrum including some doubles. Strange that at Malvern Spring Show last week there didn't appear to be any atragenes for sale - most were forced early large flowered group looking a little out of place on a raw, dank day!


 The plant grown from Koreana mixed seed. Still only 3 feet tall after 6 years!




 The only spring flowering clematis on show at Malvern last week courtesy of The British Clematis Society. The plant societies section is for me one of the best parts of the show and where you can always rely on sound advice



Hostas have been very slow even those like "Chinese Sunrise" which is usually the first into leaf in mid March. They are at last moving, some more so than others depending on their progeny and locality in the garden. One that has absolutely blown me away in the last week is "Liberty" a large form which was the American Hosta Society's hosta of the year in 2012 and you can see why.


LIBERTY!! - only 3 years in the ground from a single pip and already making a massive statement



Although we have very few rhododendrons and azaleas in the garden, there are a couple of dwarf azaleas around the small pond by the house and they are currently lighting up the front entrance to the house with a staggering blaze of colour.


The dwarf azaleas and rhododendrons with the conservatory in the background enjoying its first birthday!



In the protection of the tunnels there is good colour too from dwarf Princess alstroemerias, zantedeschias, pelargoniums, and a few shrubs in pots notably indigofera pendula, quite a sight at over 6 feet tall, and yellow flowered cestrum parquii. The tunnels are a nice place to be on a cold wet day. 


Indigofera pendula in a pot in the large tunnel. Possibly reasonably hardy in a choice location outside but better with winter protection. Flowers all summer when it can be moved outside 




Cestrum parquii - definitely not hardy it will turn up its toes much below -3C so definitely one for winter protection. Foetid leaves and mildly scented flowers like many in this genus. Try cestrum nocturnum if you want overpowering scent on a hot summers night. Tiny flowers , massive impact but sickly sweet.



So many other wonderful plants too numerous to name but some pics to show some of the very best.


Lysichiton camtschchatsensis, smaller than L. americanus the more commonly encountered skunk cabbage. The white form is much smaller and has pleasantly fragrant flowers but is slower to become established. This plant is 4 years old but still quite small




The huge leaves of rheum palmatum atrosanguineum which will gradually turn green before sending up a white flower spike over 7 feet tall.



 And one of the undoubted highlights of the year is the first flower on the magical Himalayan blue poppy, meconopsis sheldonii "Lingholm hybrids" fairly reliably perennial unlike some others in the group which are decidedly monocarpic.



Wildlife and countryside

The first swallows of the year arrived on 15 April - as there were 2 of them this must be summer!! Moving swiftly on (like that?) a pair of pied flycatchers have set up home in the nesting box in the old alder at the back of the Paddock Pond. Back and forward all day long I guess the eggs have hatched - food comes in and feathers and other rubbish are brought out. They are bright tidy birds and as much a harbinger of summer as the swallows in this part of Wales, one of their strongholds.

Tadpoles have hatched (toads only recently so) but far less than last year, much of the spawn having been destroyed by the continuous frosts in March.

Spring wildflowers have been fabulous; primroses, celandines, wood anemones and latterly wild garlic and bluebells have flowered in profusion and for longer than usual, bloom times often overlapping with each other. The anemones however were exceptional.

rob.i.am (the "pet" robin) has been less in evidence but earlier this month I found the reason why. He and his beloved have a nest low down in a shrub in the Paddock Garden, a strange place but the eggs were all in place so fingers crossed that predators don't find them.



The garden talks season drew to a close in April with  2 well received talks in Monmouthshire, one at short notice to The Hardy Plant Society in Usk, and the other to Chepstow and District Garden Appreciation Society. Further than we usually go but very enjoyable with some lively audience participation.  For my local gardening club in Llangadog on 29 May I am having a "premiere" (no red carpet but a lovely hall and the warmest of welcomes) to launch a new talk entitled "50 of My Favourite Hardy Perennials". The talk starts at 7.30 pm in the Community Hall and all are welcome. Refreshments served after the talk and plants for sale. Be there!!

We have also visited a couple of gardens one of which Wyndcliffe Court, St.Arvans, Monmouthshire was very special indeed. Built in 1922 in the Arts and Crafts style it contains all the features one expects of houses and gardens of this period: beautifully proportioned house of local dressed stone, garden hard landscaping (ballustrading, steps, paths and other features) in similar stone, softened by carefully designed borders and topiary. Although some of the planting needs refreshing and updating the whole garden has a massive presence and new custodians who intend to address the planting considerations once they have settled in. Appropriately their professions are in arts and crafts and they have a sculpture exhibition in the gardens this summer which is open to the public every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until September. For more details visit their website at www.wyndcliffecourt.co.uk


Two views of Wyndcliffe Court giving a glimpse of some of the magic of house and garden






There was also the annual trip to Malvern Spring Gardening Show. Dry for the most part but cold with a howling gale ir seemed a rather low key affair with less stalls reflecting perhaps the economy and late season, but the nurserymen nevertheless had for sale a wide range of quality  plants as always to ease the money from our pockets!!


My favourite view at the Showground - a row of smaller nurseries with that superb background of The Malvern Hills the inspiration of Edward Elgar for much of his music,  captured memorably  for all time in his "Introduction and Allegro for Strings"


Our own garden visitor season starts on 6 June with Saga Holidays coming to Cilgwyn which we are much looking forward to and hope for some better weather and more colour to delight our visitors.

We still have a couple of spare dates so if you would like to arrange a group visit between June and September (most dates in July are now booked) please get in touch. All openings are for The National Gardens Scheme