Late May - "and all the world sweats with the bead of summer in its bud"

Friday, May 31, 2013

It is only a couple of weeks since my last news update so this will be a shorter version than usual - about time too I hear you say! The weather continued with the same mixed bag of  we have had all Spring with the recurring features of persistently cold winds and below average day and nightime temperatures.  Some dry intervals in between and warmth too highest 19C, lowest  min -2C on 25 May which was not welcome. Not a surprise then to hear it has been the coldest Spring for 50 years.


A surge of growth at last!

The last 7 days, with torrential rain for 2 days, warmer nights and brighter days has seen the long awaited surge in growth across the gardens and in the surrounding countryside.  It is a time of great anticipation and hope that this surge will continue all the way through the summer. This is that special moment when everything is still fresh and  holding the promise of all the good things to come - probably my favourite time in the gardening year. When Laurie Lee, the Gloucestershire poet and author  best known for  "Cider with Rosie", wrote his poem "April Rise" he spoke of everything "sweating with the bead of summer in its bud" which sums up perfectly how I feel now. Being a countryman at heart he was in tune with the seasons; his attribution of this explosion of growth to April is accurate because I feel we are 4 weeks behind where we normally are at this time of year, and just to confirm the point only now are the apple trees in flower!!


Good growth around the Gardens

The vegetables in the ground are growing away well, including carrots with all sowings made  since late April up and growing away, unlike last year when only the final sowing in July germinated. Peas too without any trouble by mice and brassicas are also looking good. Spuds are late because they weren't planted until the last days of  April but at least they are up and thanks to multi layers of fleece on colder nights were little troubled by several sub zero temperatures.  However runner beans in  pots in the tunnel have been abysmal the seeds just rotting off  in several succesive sowings  - something I have never experienced before in 25 years of starting them off in this way. Sweetcorn in pots is later but not a bad thing given the cold nights we have experienced.

Flower borders starting to show colour with the stars of the moment being the fabulous blue Himalyan poppy, Lingholm Hybrids, aquilegias in the widest range of colours I have ever had including a superb white spurred form called "Kristall", red astrantias in various cultivars, the first of the bearded iris and many others too numerous to mention but reflected in the pics below.


Aquilegia "Kristall" with a yellow hybrid longissima in the background



Much of the new growth on many plants around the gardens is dark initially before turning green late as in the fine acer palmatum var. Dissectum Atropurpureum



Podyphyllum hexandrum showing dark marbled foliage topped by a pink flower that later becomes an edible? fruit. A really cracking shade lover and already 2 feet tall



This brooding large clump of rodgersia ?aesculifolia by the pond edge. It rarely sends up more than a couple of flower spikes but makes an impact all summer  with its structure and size. A good alternative to gunnera if you don't have room for that monster!



Some sunshine at last! This lovely form of dicentra "Gold Heart" Shimmering in yer face yellow for 2 months until mid /late June



The stream garden with in the foreground  a fine old stand of smilacina racemosa (now maianthemum racemosum)



In the tunnels it is good to be able to start moving out some of the more tender plants and to have an end in sight with pricking out and potting on the many seedlings we started in mid January. Some of these have been hardened off sufficiently to be planted out in the borders which are now the focus of attention, to fill the gaps left by last Autumns's drastic clear out of overgrown clumps and the ravages of the weather of the past 3 months. Since we have 17 borders (I lose count sometimes!) this is a major and time consuming task but a very enjoyable one as it gives me the chance to substantially change some of my planting schemes and to incorporate many of the new plants I have grown or bought in during the last 12 months.

The re-sown lawns are looking green even though close inspection reveals some barer patches which will need to be top dressed again. It seems that the more I cut them now the thicker the new grass becomes. Because I can't use weedkiller on the lawns, I have resorted to the old method of weeding out by hand the rogues, mostly clover and a few docks. I am pretty pleased how this major overhaul of the lawns has gone so far and my recently acquired vinatge Webbs cylinder mower gives a really fine finish which makes the lawns look better by cutting the grass, rather than slashing it with the rotary mower. 

 Contrast this with the picture in April News to see how the grass has come on. Note the slow growth in the borders!



Wildlife and countryside

Many of the lambs around us are at the stage where they are ready for market and their brief but entirely natural lives come to an end.  They are an indelible part of the countryside in spring and a joy to watch as they grow up.  They are highly sociable and form large groups playing and as they get older, headbutting each  other, Soon it will be time for shearing the ewes who then have a well deserved break, and "turning out" to give the fields a chance to grow for the silage and hay harvests.

The birdsong in the valley has been wonderful with blackbirds to the fore especially in the evening from any vantage point they can find, the higher the better, where their songs can continue for an hour or so until silenced by dusk. At which point out come the bats, pipistrelles mostly from the roof of the Lodge, feasting over the Paddock Pond on the large rises of flies brought on by the warmer nights.

I see the pied flycatchers every day,  just the pair so hopefully their young have fledged because they are not seen at the nesting box any more. Just recently I had the first sightings of redstarts and last night a large flight of 20 or so geese flew overhead , probably Canada geese, with that unmistakable honking sound,. On the tidal River Severn where I used to live, the locals  called geese "sky dogs".   Finally a pair of pied wagtails have successfully raised a brood in an old planter under the nursery staging - they al;ways choose the strangest places.



We had a special visitor last Monday and a  very welcome one too. Cherise Viljoen from Kirstenbosch Botanic Garden in South Africa who is Senior Horticulturist and Nursery Manager had been at Chelsea Flower Show with the team from Kirstenbosch where they had won a Gold Medal for their display in the Floral Pavilion. The Botanic Garden is celebrating its 100th Anniversary this year, as was Chelsea Flower Show so there was a good deal of media coverage for them which was fronted mostly by Cherise.  After the Show she  travelled to Wales accompanied by her mother,  to stay with her friend Hazel from Farmyard Nurseries, who worked with Cherise at Kirtstenbosch when she did a secondment as part of her horticultural training. 

Although it was  dull  with rain later, she lit up the day with her sparkling personality, humour, enthusiasm and knowledge. She is a complete plant nut so needless to say we got on famously. It was interesting to see her reaction to many of the northern hemisphere plants we have here  with which she is not readily familiar. We feel much the same about the many plants of South African origin, one of the most diverse plant areas of the world, that we grow here. I had a masterclass in growing dieramas, rhodohypoxis and plectranthus which she was delighted to find in the tunnels far from their native land. It was a memorable day and one we will never forget.


Cherise getting familiar with the local flora (the magnifient Himalayan blue poppy)



And getting familiar with the local fauna!! 



Time to go - sad farewells to Cherise and her Mum. As a parting shot we learned that Cape Town where Kirtsenbosch is located is as wet as our part of Wales but lowest temperatures rarely get below 7C in winter! Hazel and her Dad in the background.


On Wednesday it was the last talk of the season to our local gardening club when I launched my newest talk "50 of My Favourite Hardy Perennial Plants" which went down well. I have a few more talks based on perennial plants in the pipeline, I just need to get busy with the cameras this summer!

Our visitor season starts on 5 June with Saga Holidays and with a forecast of fine weather it is an encouraging way to start our 14th season of opening for The National Gardens Scheme. Please get in touch if you would like to make a booking as we still have a few dates left this summer.