My sap has stared to rise with Spring just around the corner

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A really busy and enjoyable month with a full calendar of events and outings and sufficient fine weather to work in the gardens and tunnels. Good growth at last after a cold January.

 The Beech Hedge Walk our main winter/spring border



Two old helle-bores! Me on the left and our great friend Richard Bramley, Farmyard Nurseries



In some winter months I struggle to find subjects to photograph but this month has provided so many opportunities that I have taken 433  pictures! so plenty to look forward to in this News item.

I think I can safely say on the 8th anniversary of launching this website, that this is the biggest I have ever published!!




A mixed bag with every weather condition except thunder and lightning experienced during the month. Increasingly warmer days and nights in the latter half accompanied on several days by low cloud and mist.  17 rain days, 10 frosts min -4C on 6th and 9th. Warmest 13C on 2nd and 20th

Torrential rain on the evening of the 3rd suddenly turned to snow which came down in sheets!


The angry sky at dusk gave an indication of the precipitation to come!



Garden update

With the exception of the Koi Pond border, every other area of the garden has been cut back and weeded, the first time I have completed this by the end of January. And what a difference it makes to how the garden now looks and how much easier it is to appreciate the early flowering plants. 

Hellebores, the first daffodil (February Gold) and pieris "Valley Valentine" which like most forms of this genus has taken a long time to reach a decent size


It has also given more time this month to go out and about, cut back the roses, sow seeds and pot on in the nursery. With the arrival of some milder weather the lawns have started to grow well but I have resisted the temptation to mow for the time being because I know that once I start I won't be able to stop!! 

A few daffodils coming into flower and other bulbous plants beginning to show, developing flower buds on early flowering shrubs and numerous self seeded pulmonarias in the woodland garden uplifting all the plantings there with their blue sheen.



Heathers on the bank alongside the Lodge. They were planted in 1987 and are still going strong. A great source of nectar for early bees.



 Chrysosplenium macrophyllum always the first perennial  to flower here (often in early January. Very easy to grow in moist  deep shade, it bulks up well from runners. Attractive and delicate flowers for up to 6 weeks



What's looking good?

This is where I launch into hellebore bore mode!  (Thanks to Christopher Lloyd for this great description of gardeners like me!) As most readers will know they are  my favourite plant amongst a whole host of other serious contenders and this year they look wonderful after a very slow start. Needless to say I continue to add new ones to our collection which now amounts to 315 planted around the gardens (yes I counted them all this week!) And I go on to Moira about her shoe and bag collection!!.


From early beginnings in 1976 when there were few places where you could buy hellebores, they have become must have plants for winter and are widely available. Having acquired many forms of helleborus x hybridus (formerly known as helleborus orientalis) I have been searching out wild species forms and newer introductions of cultivars. Always something different to keep me keen!!

A collection of flowers from the gardens. All the large flowers are from x hybridus forms. The smaller flowers around the bottom of the dish are from species forms.


 A trip to Ashwood Nurseries (see visits later) seduces you to buy new introductions!







Back home, compare the dainty flowers of helleborus torquatus, a species form, with the huge flowers of the hybrids.



 Elsewhere in the garden is this huge flowered helleborus niger, a form I had thought was "Potters Wheel" but now believe to be an introduction from Ashwoods 




A more recent h. niger introduction is this double form HGC Snow Frills



Apart from their obvious beauty, range of colours and forms, ability to grow in most places except bog or dry sunny places, and long flowering times of up to 3 months, they are long lived plants, some of ours already exceeding 20 years old. Rabbit proof and generally healthy apart from blackspot which can be treated with a range of remedies, they require little maintenance, apart from cutting off the spent flower heads in spring before they shed their seeds everywhere, and cutting of the old leaves in December for cosmetic reasons and to avoid the spread of any blackspot to the new flowers. A feed of fertiliser in Spring (blood fish and bone is ideal) or whatever is your usual balanced fertliser. A mulch of compost or well rotted manure in autumn can also be beneficial but do not cover the growing crowns as it could cause them to rot killing the plant.

 A complex intersectional cross of h. argutifolius, h. lividus and h. niger was made in the 1960's by Eric Smith one of the foremost nurseryman of his day. The cross is known as h.ericsmithii and there at least 10 named cultivars.

The white ones in this pic are forms of h. sternii, the 2 at the top are un named forms, the one at the bottom is "Winter Moonbeam"  for me the best in this group. 



In the last few years several nurseries in the UK and Europe have sought to further improve h. ericsmithii by crossing it with other sections of the genus. They are reproduced by tissue culture to ensure they will come true. For me the best forms are those introduced by R D Nursery in Devon. Known as Rodney Davey Marbled Group they  have wonderful leaves which I do not cut back before flowering.

This one is Penny's Pink" and thrives in a well drained spot in part sun. For other new introductions go to www.  and


There are of course other stars of the season especially snowdrops which by common consent of gardening friends are quite superb this year, and the good old long flowering, weatherproof and utterly charming cyclamen coum. 





Wildlife and countryside

 Lambing has started on all the neighbouring farms and  the sight of a few lambs gambolling (is that a word?!!) in the fields adds further proof that Spring is indeed just around the corner (in spite of the best efforts of storm Doris!!)

Feeding time for the later lambing ewes before being taken into the barns where they lamb. Pictures of lambs next month.


On the 16th suddenly and without warning on a damp mild night the frogs arrived in their hundreds in the Paddock Pond. 6 days and nights of sexual mayhem continued. Just as quickly they have all gone apart from a few dead corpses, leaving behind a mass of spawn. Last year late frosts destroyed all the fresh spawn and we had no tadpoles, so fingers crossed for milder weather until the tadpoles hatch. 





An incredible 9 garden visits during the month. I am sure that we have never been out and about so many times in any month of the year. We also had a visit to Cilgwyn Lodge from some local members of our Hardy Plant Society group, our first since my illness last winter. Pictures are all that is needed to give you an impression of some of the lovely gardens we visited. The weather was kind for every visit quite an achevement in February.

Gelli uchaf, Rhydcymarau, Carmarthenshire




National Botanic Garden of Wales


 Such a delight  on a cold winter's day, to see in the Great Glashouse  such profuse flowering in the South African section









And in the Tropical House free flying butterflies have been a great visitor success since their introduction last summer


 They only live a few weeks and are constantly being replaced. These are chrysalis that will hatch in a day or so.






A unique and exceptionally difficult cross from h.niger and h.vesicarius, is h. ashwoodensis "Briar Rose". The cross was made by Kevin Belcher, the long time propagtor at Ashwood's, who is world famous for his skills


 We have seen wonderful snowdrops this year but the best by far were those in a woodland setting at a Farm near Kidwelly owned by Jenny a good friend of ours. Extending for about 400 metres along and up a steep slope, they were simply breathtaking. Totally natural in a magical setting alongside a river. A superb "snowdrop lunch" ended a perfect day.


Jenny is almost smothered by them!


 And Jan another friend indicates how far up the slope they go!



Kingston Bagpuize House, Oxfordshire


 Huge drifts of crocus and leucojums



Leucojum vernum


 Followed by even larger drifts of crocus and winter aconites



Moira in a glade with snowdrops and framed by the blossom of cornuc mas



Llandysul Winter Gardening Weekend




Richard and I did a talk on our passion for hellebores. It went down well and one member of the audience labelled us the new "Morecambe and Wise"!!








Finally a trip down memory lane to Chalford, Glos to find the house where I spent the first 5 years of my life. Originally one of a terrace of cotswold stone houses with no mains services it appears to have been converted to one large house. Alongside the Thames and Severn Canal and surrounded by deep countryside it was my introduction to the natural world, the love of which has stayed with me ever since.


 Chalford is a small village in a steep valley with beautiful old buildings, some of which reflect the industry which built up alongside the river Frome.








When I was 5 we moved to Stonehouse 8 miles from Chalford, and once again I wasn't far away from the canal where I fished in a stretch that has been restored over the last few years


Reflecting on my life it occured to me that I have always lived in a valley setting, as I do now in the beautiful Towy valley in Carmarthenshire, which always provides a warm embrace and a feeeling of comfort and security, surrounded by nature and the gardens wich we both love so much.. Such pleasure in the simple things of life.