Christmas 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

This time last year we were under a deep blanket of snow with weeks of temperatures regularly below -15C. Very seasonal and lovely. Nothing growing anywhere however and spending a fortune on gas for the polytunnels. Everything in there wrapped up in multi layers of horticultural fleece. And as for us we were similarly wrapped up and lethargic in weather in which even a seasoned polar explorer would think twice about going out!! For the first time we had no veggies from the garden for Christmas dinner.


Cilgwyn Lodge Christmas Day 2010 at minus 18C



The Brecon Beacons 18 December 2011


What a difference this year. Although there was a good fall of snow last week in the Brecon Beacons 20 miles from here, we had none and there has only been one day of frost this month so far (lowest -3C), wind and rain being the predominant weather feaures. Some mild temperatures for the most part. Grass still growing and needing to be mown until the final cut on 9 December.


Note the fine colour on the grass and the stripes!



What is good for grass however is also good for weeds, especially bittercress which has come up everywhere like, well mustard and cress! Whenever the rain relents I am out there weeding  before it sets seed. Proper gardening this late in the year. I have also taken the opportunity to cut the old foliage from the hellebores, quite a task given that there are in excess of 200 of them in the garden and already flower buds are clearly showing on some plants, and a good few of those in pots in the polytunnles are already in bloom.


The first hellebore of the season from seed - always a special moment as it takes at least three years to get a flowering plant and you never know what it will be like.



Needing to spray them for mildew and blackspot because of the high humidity. We fully ventilate the tunnels every day that the weather permits and that includes some of the colder days too. Damp static air causes more trouble in protected growing areas than a good flow of air during daylight hours.


A few tender plants are still in bloom in the polytunnels and brightening the dark days:-

Alogyne hueglii 12,000 miles from its home in Australia



In lovely colours of Christmas  salvia fulgens still going strong



A major task at this time of year is keeping the 2 woodburners going, the cooker/boiler in the kitchen which is on 24 hours a day and the woodburning stove (11kw) in the lounge. We are lucky to have the verandah around the house to keep the wood dry and have it so close to the point of use. This year 90% of the logs are well seasoned ash, the best all round burning burning wood. The verse "Logs to Burn" sums it up beautifully that - "Ash logs wet or ash logs dry, A King may warm his slippers by". With a winter's supply already cut and stacked it is a warm feeling indeed.


Both woodburners at full throttle



 Unlike last year and learning from that lesson, apart from parsnips which are better left in the ground, we have dug all our other root crops (carrots, beetroot and celeriac) and stored them in the stone shed, with Bramley apples, potatoes in sacks, onion strings, shallots in nets and red and white cabbage hanging intact from the rafters - it's pretty full in there! Still in the garden are leeks, sprouts, winter cabbage. purple sprouting, turnips and a few heads of late celery and plenty of herbs including marjoram, rosemary (all dead this time last year), thyme, sage and fennel.

Best achievement of all is the Rosada tomatoes in the large poytunnel. The plants themselves have all but expired but the tomatoes keep on ripening (some on their 12th truss) and continuing to taste superb. Honestly I have never tasted a better tomato, an ideal balance between sweetness and sharpness even so late in the year. Fresh picked tomatoes at Christmas are an absolute delight. Showing my age now, I can remember in the late 1960's when fruit and veg wasn't nearly so available as it is now, I thought that tomatoes from the Canary Islands over 1.000 miles away were the height of culinary cool. but here I am 40 years on picking them from my own plants in mid Wales for the short journey from tunnel to plate!!


Trusses of Rosada intermingling with the last flowers of brugmansia sanguineum



The fish in all 3 ponds are doing well this winter and are still active on warmer days.  (At least 12 inches of ice on the Paddock Pond 12 months ago but none this year). The koi carp especially look very well, and are quite active taking a pinch of food on the warmer days. I don't normally feed them during winter months as thay are usually inactive.




Good berries on our nearby holly tree (the redwings didn't take them all which was kind of them) and also on the ivy so plenty for the Christmas decorations and Yule Log (ash of course). The tradition was I believe it was supposed to last from Chrsitmas Day until 12th Night and for there to be enough left to start the fire next Christmas Day. That was in the days before smaller fireplaces and woodburners! No chance now but a nice tradition to keep alive.

Winding down a bit now for the festive season before the nights start to get lighter in 2 days time, and looking forward to January and all the promise of a new year in the garden and all the delights of Spring just around the corner. 2012 will be we hope, a special year too on so many fronts with the Diamond Jubilee, the Olympics, two special birthdays for Moira and me, and the building of our conservatory. Let's hope it will be a year to remember for all the right reasons and that is it is the same for all our friends in gardening and visitors both to the garden and this website.

Seasons greetings and good wishes from us both

Keith and Moira XX