Rain and gales continue throughout February and bring the "winter" to a conclusion

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

By my reckoning we have had almost 70 consecutive days when in any 24 hour period there has been some rain, often torrential. It is all getting too much; add to that the frequent severe gales and it presents a very depressing picture. We have however fared better than many other parts of the UK and that is something for which to be grateful. It is officially the wettest winter for over 200 years! But it has also been very mild with just one frost in the month. and this is what has kept us sane!

Some weather related pics:-

Aberaeron harbour, Ceredigion, the day after the great gale on 12 February


 And the harbour looking inland towards the town with its wonderful Georgian buildings


 The river in spate at the bottom of the garden at Cilgwyn Lodge


 The barometer setting  scarcely moved off the lowest reading on the scale all throughout the month



There are many reasons to be cheerful nonetheless. The grass is green, there are lambs back in the surrounding fields, in drier interludes the birds are singing again, the frogs are back in the Paddock Pond and growth is evident in the sodden flower beds. Snowdrops have had a wonderful flowering and the beloved hellebores are putting on a show but some have been badly battered by the wind and the constant wet has brought a higher incidence of blackspot than usual.


A very good unknown form of a tall snowdrop with delicate green tips


  The best yellow hellebore I have ever seen from Credale Nursery. See "Visits" for more info.


It lifts the spirits every day to see the flowers in the Beech Hedge Walk which is our main late winter/early spring border, lifted even further by the large clumps of cyclamen coum which have bulked up over the course of the last 20 years.


Part of the Beech Hedge Walk in full bloom



Whilst it is difficult to plan a work schedule for the garden there is always work to do in the nursery poytunnels and frames, and we are ahead of where we usually are at this time of year. It has for the most part however been a very challenging month. When the sun occasionally shines it brings to mind some words written in a piece of prose by Dylan Thomas first broadcast in 1953 entitled "The International Eisteddfod". It perfectly encapsulates the indominantability of the human spirit and the joy of simple celebration. "The town sang and danced as though it were right and proper as the rainbow or the rare sun to celebrate the bright old turning earth and its bullied people" The more things change, the more they stay the same!



As this has already been done to death over the last 3 months I won't linger but just to say that we had only one frost in February on 16th of the month. Several other nights at just above freezing but that was it - amazing! and very kind to the bank balance as heating costs for the tunnel and greenhouse were much reduced. There were at least 7 major storms mostly from the south east which whips up our valley building up speed as the valley narrows. We suffered more damage to the polythene on the small tunnel, already damaged over the Christmas period and the end of one of the glasshouses was blown out into the road in the most severe of the gales on 12 February. Daytime temperatures of 9C and above were common with a max of a balmy 12C on 24th


Garden Update

The continuing bad weather has played havoc with our programme of work for February. One of the main tasks is the cutting back of all the dead foliage of the herbaceous plants and carting it away. Easier with a hedge trimmer - it still takes at least 3 days, and once this is done it is closely followed by an intense hand weeding of all the borders, which can be upwards of a 7 day job. As always it is the bittercress that causes the most concern as it is so quick to produce seed that it can reproduce itself every month and that is one heck of a lot of unwelcome seed.

As the borders are so wet we have not been able to do this yet so attention has turned to repotting all the plants in the 4 large frames in the nursery. In spite of the humidity and rain we have lost very few plants and many have bulked up so well that they have been split to produce more plants for sale to our summer visitors.

In spite of the bad weather there are still a good few plants coming into flower

 A pulmonaria seed raised form in the woodland garden




Euphorbia characias buds just about to open



And the same plant a week later


 An unusual woodlander for damp shade, a member of the saxifraga family, chrysosplenium macrophyllum


Seed sowing is an ongoing activity at this time of year and already over 100 varieties of vegetable and flower seed have been sown, many of which are growing away strongly and will soon need pricking out. This is being delayed as long as possible because of the shortage of space with having one tunnel largely out of action, even though there are still some dry areas in which to hold hardier more mature plants and to keep the bags of growing media dry.

I need a spell of calm dry weather to repair the small tunnel - if it was just the polythene to replace it would have been done by now  - but with a major reconstruction of the existing frame, setting new door frames in concrete and fixing at great expense an aluminium ground rail to which to affix the new polythene (to save digging a trench into heavily compacted and soaking wet ground) I need much longer to complete the works and get the benching and electrics ready to accommodate the more delicate seedlings and cuttings which usually occupy the small tunnel at this time of year. It is becoming more of a priority with each day that passes but until the weather settles down I will not be able to begin the job.

 Fuchsia arborescens in the large tunnel just coming into flower. In its native habitats in South America it can grow into a mediun sized tree. Even in a tunnel it can make exceptional growth in a relatively shorty space of time


We continue to be largely self sufficient in vegetables direct from the garden, freezer or in store. Recently the purple sprouting a much loved and highly underated late winter crop has started to come into production with sweet, intense purple spears. Regular picking generates side shoots which produce yet more spears, A tall and highly resilient plant it is a boost to the vegetable choices at a time when production of the winter satlwarts like sprouts,

 Purple sprouting ready for the first cut


On a rare dry day earlier this month all the shrub roses (the only sort we grow) were cut back by about half in most cases, with a hedge trimmer. A simple, quick and highly effective means of dealing with a task which, when using secateurs, can be a long drawn out process and in my experience is no more effective or productive.


What's looking good?

As always at this time of year the show stealers have to be the hellebores. I know I keep on about them but they are in my opinion without equal at this time of year. As they will grow almost anywhere no garden should be without them! It isn't a vintage year by any means as the continuous wind and rain has spoilt the flowers of those in exposed positions but with more than 200 plants around the gardens there are always plenty to admire. No other spring flowering perennial can compete with them. I am pleased that some of the species forms we have acquired over the past few years have settled down well - in particular H. torqautus from Romania, H. liguricus from Italy with a pronounced scent which could be described as lemon but at other times smells more like cats pee! H.odorus  with  good cup shaped green flowers is also a scented form but not so pronounced as liguricus, and h.istriacus is dainty with small green flowers. It is good to be reminded of the charm and simplicity of true wild forms.

I promised more hellebore pics this month and here they are!



A wild collected h. torquatus from Romania with flowers no larger than an inch across


 Another wild form H.istiacus from Italy


 A scented wild form h.odorus from central and southern Europe



All the wild forms have played their part in the hybridisation programmes that have been going on for the last 150 years and what some stunners they have produced!








 All the above are hybrids raised at Credale Nursery

Below are species and hybrid forms of the stemmed forms of hellebores, different sections from those shown above


 H.lividus a more tender form from Mallorca and very rare there


 A selected form of h. argutifolius , "Silver Lace"


 And a fine cross between the two, H.X Sternii "Silver Dollar"


Cyclamen coum continue to flower well and we continue to add more to our winter borders. As I have said before they are truly hardy, unlike the smaller flowered cultivars from c. persicum offered for sale in garden centres and other retail outlets in winter. Although they are stated to be hardy, of course they are not, except perhaps in a mild winter in larger townd and cities, particularly in window boxes and protected planters. They have sold well for us at talks I have given during the month.

Cyclamen at Cilgwyn



And a lovely planting of cyclamen with crocus, ophiopogon planiscapus the so called black grass, all mulched with  broken slate at Ivycroft (see visits below)


Snowdrops have had a great flowering but are coming to an end; anemone blanda is beginning to come into bloom as are narcissus which considering the mild winter are later than usual with only a few making it by St. David's Day, although in Swansea on the coast they were in full bloom last week.

Narcissus "February Gold" just missed the deadline coming into flower on 2 March!


It is good to see herbaceous perennials starting to gow away strongly especially phlox and lupins which have leaves that hold water in in a jewel like fashion. Cornus mas with its yellow flowers is slow this year but has started in the last couple of days to show colour in ther bud.

Emerging leaves of phlox "Blue Paradise"



Lupin "The Governor" shining with droplets of rain



Wildlife and countryside

The highlight in February is always the return of the frogs to the Paddock Pond the first of which arrived on 17 February. A few days later there were hundreds, filling the pond in no time with masses of spawn, The noise they make is incredible which can be heard over 30 metres away


There are still only a few lambs in the surrounding fields as our farmer neighbours are having to keep them in the lambing barns for longer because of the weather. Young lambs are very susceptible to wind and rain. 


The flocks of starlings are diminishing although there was a visitation in a small ash tree at the bottom of the garden which looked almost like a scene from Alred Hitchcocks "The Birds"!!


There are a few celandines in flower in the gardens and plenty more coming in the hedgerows



With 5 talks in the month it has been busy but very enjoyable, all of them being well attended.

The Llandysul Winter Gardening Weekend was a success with over 40 in the audience for my talk on Vegetables on the Saturday There were so many questions that I didn't get to the slideshow!! It seemed to go well and I had some good feedback

The stage display at the Winter Gardening Weekend, constructed by Farmyard Nurseries, Gold Medal winners at Chelsea Flower Show



 Other talks included "50 of my Favourite Hardy Perennials", the most requested talk at present, and "Hooray for Hellebores" a personal favourite, for Llangadog Gardening Club. This meant that they have now had all my 8 talks. I am therefore currently working to expand my talks portfolio with 2 new talks: "Sizzling Summer Perennials" and "Gardens I Have Known and Loved" both of which should be ready for autumn/winter 2014/15.

There were 4 visits to gardens and nurseries in the month. They included Ivycroft, Ivington Green, near Leominster with a great collection of snowdrops and other early flowering plants - go to  www.ivycroftgarden.co.uk  Farmyard Nurseries  www farmyardnurseries.co.uk  and Credale Nursery for hellebores, www.credale.co.uk and a garden in Overton, 6 The Boarlands  on  the Gower Peninsular near Swansea a true "Plantsman's"  garden with a staggering collection of tender plants and many other rare gems. This garden is open for the National Gardens Scheme on 26 July 2014 as part of a village opening. Go to www.ngs.org.uk and follow the links to Glamorgan, Overton and Port Eynon, entry no.23

 Snowdrops at the entrance to Ivycroft



Snowdrop "Lady Elphinstone"


 And a superb seedling from "Trym"



Echiums in variety at 6 The Boarlands


 General border view


 And not many can grow this demanding "Chatham Island Forget Me Not" this well. It grows like a weed at Boarlands with copious applications of seaweed



The stock tunnel and some choice hellebores at Credale Nursery





Another garden also open for the NGS we can heartily recommend is Gelli Uchaf which has a wonderful spring  garden  800 feet up in the hills of Carmarthenshire Go to www.thegardenimpressioni sts.wordpress.com  for visiting arrangements

Finally we already have several bookings for visits to Cilgwyn Lodge this summer  but there are plenty of other dates available from June - end of August so if you would like to pay us a visit please get in touch.


We had some unusual visitors for St. David's Day when a number of hot air balloons flew directly over Cilgwyn. Note also the BLUE! sky.