Looking for hidden treasures at the back end of the year

Friday, November 28, 2014

After several  recent mammouth News iIems, the garden is slowing down now so this month's news is at last much shorter which will come as a great relief! In a mild but very changeable month there was still a surprising amount to admire, with roses and salvias in particular continuing to delight.

This lovely bouqet picked from the garden and tunnels on 23 November included rosa "Blush Noisette", chrysanthemum "Emperor of China", a tall kalimeris ( see more details  below) and salvia leucanthe "Santa Barbara"


Most of the daisy tribe had had enough of the often heavy rain, with just a few brave flowers continuing to put on a show, none better than dahlia merckii. Just when I thought th daisy show was over a very late tall kalimeris came into flower in the second week of the month, name long since lost - isn't that always the way?? I wish I was more disciplined with my records! With many of the star performers now finished it is time for some of the quiet unsung heroes to come forward, late autumn being their brief moments of stardom.



A typical November in many ways with regular heavy rain, gales, thunderstorms, some sunny days and generally continuing mild both day and night. Until 24th when we had our first frost since 19 April, one of the longest frost free periods I can remember in nearly 40 years of living here. It took some getting used to and had me searching for the thermals and the essntial woolly hat!

Max 15C on the first of the month,  Min -4C  on 24th and 25th. Daytime temperatures were cold reaching just 5C  with brilliantlly clear skies and at dusk a beautiful crescent moon which rose and set over the tall hill to the south west in the space of half an hour. Just time to get the camera.!



Garden update

Tidying up was the main task this month with fallen leaves top of the agenda. It seemed a less arduous task this year as most of the trees seemed to shed their leaves at about the same time and was quickly completed thanks to the loan of a leaf blower from our friend Rob the Lawn Guru. All the leaves are blown into the flower borders to enrich the soil and provide some winter protection.

The latest colouring acer in the gardens is a. palmatum "Orange Dream" It colours to a deep yellow/orange in just a few days then drops its leaves. Good to have some sunshine to show it off to best effect.



A 50th birthday gift from friends Sylvia and Tony, this liquidamber is a reliable source of late colour into December. Sadly 2 days after this picure was taken,  in a fierce gale one of the 2 main leaders was snapped. Fortunately the main shape of the tree now 20 feet tall has not been altered. It is always good to have special memories of friends or happy events in our gardens.



I continued to mow the lawns until the frosts came but I think it is  now safe to conclude that lawn mowing is officially competed for another year.



With the forecast of frost I dug up many tender plants bedded out for summer to overwinter in the tunnels, having already successfully struck cuttings. during October. On fine days it was good to be able to work on the borders, thinning overgrown clumps, cutting back some trees and shrubs. The Picket Fence  border near the house,is  the only border of the 17 that I cut back now, all the others wait until February.

When cut back it affords a better view to the log store under the verandah, a winter attraction for passing traffic for which we are almost as well known locally as we are for the flower borders in summer!!



I also started to cut off this years leaves from the hellebores, quite a task with well over 200 throughout the gardens and many more in pots in the nursery. I have 4 pages of reporters notebook filled with winter tasks to complete so it is good to have got ahead in some areas. I am a firm believer that using the winter months in this way is an essential element of a successful new gardening year. 

In tidying up the borders I found several areas which had started to look tired or underused and having cleared them, they were underplanted with spring bulbs for immediate impact next year to which summer plantings will be added later.


What's looking good?

The hidden treasures! They may not be show stoppers, but perhaps thiis doesn't do them justice because at this time of year we are grateful for anything fresh or new to squeeze every last ounce of interest out of the garden year before it finally fades into memory.  

Seedheads of selinum wallichianum considered by many to be the "Queen of Umbellifers" 



Many clematis have valuable seedheads in a variety of forms. This candy floss concoction belongs to clematis rehderiana, late flowering with cowslip scented pale lemon flowers. A vigorous grower to 20 feet.



Needing no introduction the seed heads of honesty ( lunaria annua) stay in good condition for most of the winter



One of the many seed pods on cardiocrinum giganteum plants that I featured in a special June news item. Long pods to 3 inches packed withindividual seeds needing to be sown straight away on their 6 year journey to one of the most magnificent flowers you will ever see or smell.



And surely the best and most long lasting  seed heads of all are those of tall miscanthus here teamed up with that tall late kalimeris I may have mentioned before! And can't you see why? I a;lways think that blue with orange or tawny brown is such a winning colour combination


We tend to think of the saxifrage family as comprising plants of alpine origin, spring flowering with silver rosettes, but it is a more diverse family than that including superb autumn flowering Japanese saxifraga fortuneii in a wide range of cultivars and other genus too.

Short, dainty and excellent in humus rich soil in part shade saxifraga cortusifolia it has reddish veined leaves and elegant elongated flowers. Really choice.



The "Marmite" plants,  heucheras, in an ever growing range of gaudy coloured foliage, divide opinion and in the past I must confess to having been rather sniffy about them especially having seen them displayed by nurseries "en masse" at the large flower shows. However I remembered something that Gertrude Jekyll said in one of her books when she was deriding Victorian flower schemes based solely on bedding plants. She opined that there was nothing wrong with the individual plants it was just how they were put together. So I looked at heucheras again. They are generally easy to place in the garden being tolerant of a wide range of conditions: I have them in full sun and partial shade, using their leaf colour to provide a long season of interest (In a mild winter staying "wintergreen") and to complement their border companions. For me the most attractive feature is their graceful flowers produced in succession from mid summer to autumn - a feature not as widely appreciated as it should be.  And as for choice of cultivars just Google "heucheras" to see what I mean!


This greem marbled leaved heuchera with good repeats of  red flowers on long upright stems is an elegant addition to the borders but it came to without a name. The nearest I can find to it is a form called "Lipstick"



Two dark leaved heucheras, on the left is "Blondie" and on the right is "Binoche" with near black leaves in full sun. In between them is heucherella "Alabama Sunrise"



If they still don't turn you on perhaps heucherallas might be more to to your taste, an interesting cross between heuchera and tiarella, with palmate, patterned  leaves and superb flowers, which look more natural than many of the more dumpy forms of heucheras. The breeders especially in the USA seem to be concentrating more and more on new hecherella crosses for which I predict a bright future and less money in our pockets!

A closer look at "Alabama Sunrise" which in summer is a much more golden colour with incised red leaf veins.



Other hidden treasures are revealed in the following gallery of pictures

 Fuchsia "Hawkshead"  glowing in a shady spot. Several other varieties of fuchsia elsewhere in the gardens also kept going well unbtil the frots arrived



Liriope muscari is an underrated and undervalued very late flowering perennial for difficult places like dry shade. Spikes of blue flowers  (and a few white flowered and variegated forms) until December in a mild autumn like this one.



 In the benign environment of the large tunnel there is plenty still to admire. In the case of the latest flowering form of the hedychiums I grow  "Lunar Moth"  has 12 flowering spikes which will open slowly over 4 - 6 weeks. On milder evenings just a few flowers will fill the air with a heady perfume



Cestrum elegans is a tall tender shrub with shiny green leaves and panicles of red flowers almost year round. I cut it back to a couple of feet in the new year to keep it in check.



Another plant I owe to Tony and Sylvia is justicia carnea whcih I have had for many years. Not the original plant but successions of cuttings which strike easily and in just a few months flowers will begin to appear. Coming from warmer parts of South America it is of course tender.



Wildlife and countryside

In the countryside there are many indicators of autumn - the leaves turning colour, the departure of the swallows, the shortening day lengths, whispy woodsmoke in the valley and the first frosts are events that come readily to mind. For me there are others too. "Murmurations" of starlings, the arrival of redwings and fieldfares devouring all the ripe berries is special but best of all perhaps after dark is the massed hooting of owls in the trees around the Lodge and the cries of mating foxes in the nearby woodland. The true calls of the wild. The fieldfares and redwings still haven't arrived yet but otherwise it is business as usual.

Yellow autumn colour on a wych elm at the bottom of the Paddock Garden. A sucker from a parent tree 10 yards away which succumbed to Dutch elm disease in the early 1980's, it has done well to survive but often at around 30 years old they become prone to the disease again. There are however a few fairly mature trees in the surrounding countryside.



Another  autumn feature in our part of Wales is the annual trimming of the hedges around the traditional field patterns. Although hedge laying is still practised it has largely been overtaken by mechanical means which if undertaken yearly, keeps the hedges tight and stock proof, and as an additional bonus is aesthetically pleasing. All my farmer neighbours take great pride in their farms and neat hedges contribute to the sense of wellbeing.


The beech hedge enclosing the gardens is a striking example of the mechanical  hedgecutters  art. Gwyn Williams one of our near neighbours, is a a particularly fine exponent and one cutting at this time of year keeps the hedge a manageable size and looking tidy until next autumn.


Last month I reported on the great numbers of  a native fern, polypodium cambricum, growing in West Wales. I should have looked closer to home! On a recent walk tthrough Cilgwyn Woods across the valley from the Lodge, I found a large oak tree on the boundary of the wood with polypodiums growing epiphytically all along one large branch Amazing!



Oh and I nearly forgot - a moorhen on the Paddock Pond - not a rare waterfowl but not encountered frequentky here. A gentle, secretive bird.


Visits and visitors

Just 2 talks this month to the Hardy Plant Society in Newcastle Emlyn and Ferryside Gardening Club, both recipients of my most requested talk this year, "50 of My Favourite Perennials". We now have a 2 month break before the next round of talks begins. 

 A fine hoar frost on the remaining flowerheads of kalimeris one of the true unsung heroes of this fine autumn.



And talking of those of the late autumn  I have to confess to another birthday, all too quickly having come around again. *7 years young today! (you supply the missing number!!)