"January brings the snow, Makes your feet and fingers glow"

Thursday, January 29, 2015

I have been writing News Articles for the website since March 2010. Not a month goes by when I don't worry about the Headline for each item. Writing a catchy title does not come easily to me and if you want proof just look at some of the less than exciting titles I have given to most of my talks! I often resort to favourite poets for inspiration and it is a fact that I cannot begin to compose the article unless I have a title fixed in my mind - surely not the way to do it but it works for me.

January brings the snow!


However this month's was a piece of cake - just pinch a couple of short lines from Flanders and Swann's epic "A song of the weather".  To hear the song enter Flanders and Swann in your search engine and it can be found on You Tube. If like me you are over 60 you will surely be familiar with their witty words (Flanders) and catchy tunes (Swann).  A quick internet search just to check the words turned into something more - it was not a wholly original piece of work. The lines originally came from a work by Sara Coleridge in her poem "The Months" written in 1834. I shall use a few more of these whenever the muse is not with me!. She was the daughter of the famous poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner etc). It doesn't end there however as it appears there at least 2 other versions of the poem entitled "The Garden Year" and "A Calendar" perhaps updated versions from unattributed sources with children in mind. If you are starting to wonder where all this is going it is a rather poor attempt to provide copy when there isn't much to report this month!



This has undoubtedly been the highlight of the month  with such varied and interesting weather "events" (don't you just hate that expression when used by the TV forecasters?) . Early on it was mild but often wet, then from the second week onwards increasingly colder and windier with severe frost, thunder, lightning and the first appreciable snow for 2 years which lasted for a week. I don't often wear gloves but whenever it was fine enough to work outdoors they were an essential item of clothing together with multi layers of coats. 11 nights below zero min -8C on 19th and a max of 11.8C on 10th. In December there were 15 nights with a min. below zero. Lowest temperature -8C

Oak trees in the midst of a blizzard


 This wonderful bell of ice formed on a field gate suspended by nothing more than a cobweb



And this was the frost pattern on the glass roof of the verandah on the same morning. Frosted glass but not as we know it.



Garden update and what's looking good

There is so little that is looking good so I have combined the 2 together. Early in the month hellebores, cyclamen coum and snowdrops were well advanced and there was hope of a very early show but the cold weather brought this to a shuddering halt. Here and there in sheltered pockets there is some colour but plenty more still to come.

Nothing has looked better than the ice on the dead seedheads of sedum "Brilliant" 



 Sparse flowering in the Beech Hedge Walk our main winter flowering border



 A superb anemone centred hybrid hellebore with enlarged petaloid nectaries. 12 years old it is one of the first to flower every year



A good blue/purple hellebore from my own seed


And a green double from Farmyard Nurseries of Llandysul


 Attractive leaf patterns on this cyclamen coum under the beech tree


There has been enough dry weather to get on with a range of  jobs from my long but rapidly decreasing list. I have done a lot of tree and shrub pruning on top of what the tree surgeons did before Christmas. Decayed timber edgings to some of the borders have been repaired, nursery benching rebuilt and a few borders in the house garden, including the shrub rose border, have been cut back. With the nights getting lighter all the time I can work outside now until 5.30.

All the prunings from this winter's cutting back and me contemplating with relish a good bonfire!


  And clearing out a blockage in the inlet from the stream to the Paddock Pond I removed this 4 foot congested mat of willow roots from the tree behind me.


The warmth of the tunnels make them a sought after refuge and there is plenty to do there already. There is always potting on to do and the seed sowing has started in earnest with over 100 varieties sown, some in late autumn but most since the beginning of the month. Sweet peas as is the tradition here are always sown on the 18th, easily remembered as the day I started work exactly 50 years ago.

I tell myself every year to be more disciplined and sow less but with in excess of 50 varieties of seed gathered from the gardens, 60 from the HPS, Chiltern Seeds large order still to come and all those others from a variety of sources plus vegetable seeds there is still a long way to go! And as scarcely a day goes by when another seed or plant catelogue doesn't pop through the letterbox I don't think I am finished yet -and  I still have my eyes set on yet more lilies for long term plantng in the borders.


I have had a fascicularia bicolour in a 10 litre pot for 16 years. It was absolutely solid in the pot and I have put off splitting it for years. Although it still flowered spasmodically the plant was c;early stressed so the time had come to split it. All the advice on the web and in garden books was just to break off the side shoots and repot them. If only it were that simple. Firstly I had to split the pot into which the plant was growing, then when it was off to divide the plant because there was no way the side shoots could be broken off. The following items of equipment were employed to do this, all to no avail: Sharp Japanese all purpose knife, jungle machette, hand saw, garden forks back to back and spade. In desperation I turned to the ultimate weapon, briefly contemplating the chain saw in the shed on way to get the mattock. This trusty tool has been the solution to all kinds of intractable problems and once again it came up trumps. All this took almost one hour!! Not pretty but highly effective and it resulted in 6 strong divisions to be grown on - I hope they survive such radical surgery.


There is however a word of caution if you ever encounter this situation - do not do it with bare hands as I did! As I said I rarely ever wear gloves in the garden and by not doing so, I did pay the price! Although fascicularias are spiky I dont find them that painful to handle, but next day my hands were pock marked where the spines had penetrated the skin. 


There is some scent on milder days from sarcocccas, lonicera pupusii "Winter Beauty" and hamamellis "Diana" which is always welcome in the depths of winter, and talking of scent just a few viola odorata flowers under the willow aslant the Paddock Pond, when the slugs leave them alone.

Sarcococca confusa



Lonicera x purpusii "Winter Beauty" now growing well after a slow start. It is currently 3 feet after 6 years but should eventually get to about 9 feet


Finally on to vegetables. All the stored vegetables in the frost free shed are keeping well, and it is amazing when you store potatoes how much better the taste and texture is of some of them, especially  Desiree and Charlotte, a second early salad type which is sweeter and nuttier now than when harvested fresh in July. A real revalation has been Blue Belle which I grew for the first time this year. Good blight and slug resistance, a reasonable crop of creamy but but firm fleshed tubers which nevertheless make superb mash, jackets and roasters. In the open ground,leeks are holding well and as always cabbage "Tundra" has proved to be reliable and very cold hardy. A January King type, "Meribel" from Marshalls is firm with purple outer leaves and sweet, tender inner leaves that cook in a matter of seconds and a nice size for two people.


Wildlife and countryside

Nature is definitely sleeping as winter creeps. Just some occasional birdsong on fine mild mornings and tawny owls calling from the horse chestnut by the house after dark. I did however see a snipe walking in the road outside the Lodge, a very strange habitat for it (but there is a stream running along the road) that initially made identification difficult but by the time I came back with the camera it had just flown off with that charactersitic zig zagging flight over the fields. They used to be fairly common here over 20 years ago as did curlews and lapwings, but all are now, sadly, very rare. And where have all the hares gone?

No frogs as yet in the Paddock Pond but patches of jelly on the bank suggest that some are on the move.

Early lambing has started but as most local farmers now pen their breeding ewes in barns when they have lambed, you don't see any in the fields for a few weeks. Hopefully some pics next month, something that always lifts the spirits, together with the first daffodils.



One garden club visit this month to St Clears for a Question Time which was one of the most testing I have done. Some great questions and good audience participation made for an enjoyable and successful evening.

Next month there are more talks and the annual Llandysul Winter Gardening Weekend on 20th, 21st and 22nd. I am speaking on Growing Vegetables at 1.00pm on the Saturday which is always a popular and well attended session.  For more details go to www.llandysul-ponttyweli.co.uk  A talk on vegetables is the topic of choice of most clubs I will be visiting during February and March.

Just for a change I had a walking outing to the Hafod Estate near Pont-rhyd-y-groes in north east Ceredigion, 600 acres of woodland and the wild rushing waters of the River Ystwyth and all its many tributaries cascading down a narrow gorge. Jointly managed by the Hafod Trust and Natural Resources Wales it has 10 miles of well marked paths through woodland with large trees, moss covered stones and banks, wonderful ferns and wood sorrel, and countless water cascades and falls. Some paths are steep and precipitous but are well made and quite safe with care. I managed just 3 miles in the time that I had before the night descended but I shall certainly return to explore more of this magic place. For more details go to www,hafod.org

The River Ystwyth in serene mood as it meanders through a wide valley above the gorge



And then it thunders down the valley being fed by several tributaries on the way 





The effect of constant water erosion on the stones at the side of one of the waterfalls - no artist could conceive such complex beauty