Ophelia and Brian

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Headline of this month's News item sounds like the title of a second rate TV comedy from the 1970's, except this was no laughing matter! We were warned in advance of the remnants of a hurricane named Ophelia - what a crazy name for a storm The heroine in Hamlet was a gentle but emotionally troubled soul incapable of causing  the kind of mayhem that the storm brought to Ireland and the western side of the UK.



It was a bizzare day here starting with a red sky in the morning -  in old country lore,"Red Sky in the morning, shepherds warning"  It was breezy and exceptionally warm, sudden gusts appearing by mid morning causing the main fuse on the electricity pole to explode which was quite a shock. As the day wore on the gusts became more severe and working in the House Garden planting out garlic I was blown over! (am I nuts or what!) This was quickly followed by what sounded like another explosion from the direction of the Paddock Garden; this time it was the plastic on the large polytunnel being ripped off.  Although we are reasonably sheltered, southerly gales like this one pick up speed as they follow the valley and this was too much for the tunnel to cope with. The storm raged on most of the day but there was no rain whatsoever!












 A fine combination of Cotinus "Grace", Euonymus alatus and Liquidamber var. unknown




Next morning surveying the garden and thinking that compared to some parts we had been very lucky with no other damage, I came across the liquidamber I had been given as a 50th birthday present, which had grown into a fine 25 feet tree and which was colouring nicely. The  leader had been split and at a stroke  a main feature in the paddock garden was lost.


 Sad to see such fine autumn colour carted away in my pick up


By comparison Storm Brian the following Saturday was just a normal autumn gale but with non stop rain all day.



Like  every one of the the last 4 months fine weather was at a premium, rain and strong winds putting to an end  much of the autumn colour show from some of the later perennials, trees and shrubs. It was some consolation that it was an incredibly mild month which kept the grass growing and pockets of interesting plants all over the gardens, many of them having a late flush across a wide variety of plants

 Only 10 sunshine days but 21 rain days, on 3 occasions rain all day on13th, 23rd and 24th. One day time temperature below 10C showing how mild it was all month.

Max daytime temperature 18C on 16th the day Ophelia came to call.

Min night time temperature  0C on 30th at the end of a perfect weather lat autumn day.





Garden Update. 

In spite of the challenges of the weather, there were still pockets of enjoyment all over the garden and from my vantage point on the scaffolding around the house, I was able to record them from a different angle.

 Rudbeckia "Goldsturm" still flowering well into October with its long term dwarf aster (symphyotrichum) companion


A unique view across the roof of the Lodge






 At last the scaffolding has gone to enable us to enjoy the finished product


Plenty of vegetables available now, especially root crops and brassicas, as all the late summer crops came to an end.


Red cabbage is better stored in a cool dry place  for the winter  than left in the ground



Moira always makes a good job of stringing the onions



 The last runner beans, variety "Firestorm" on 19 October, from a direct sowing made on 10 July



Gathering ripe seed for The Hardy Plant Society Seed Exchange was difficult and drying it off even worse, but eventually I was able to gather 15 different varieties. Quite a contrast with some of thebetter years when above 30 was the norm.

The tender plants in the damaged polytunnel  survived well and it was interesting to note that the rain and gales had helped to clear most of the whitefly that has plagued  plants all summer and autumn. Proof if it were needed, that excellent ventilation can help to keep whitefly at bay.


A yet to be identified climber possibly a form of campsis, a gift from a friends mother's garden in Italy



Passiflora caerulea "Rubra", one of many in the small tunnel which are about to break



The large brugmansias I have featured several times in previous News Items, have had a new flush of buds, probably as a result of the soaking they have had, far more water than I could ever give them by conventional irrigation.



Work on repairing the large tunnel begins




 We had so many offers of help which we were very grateful for



Robert and Barry were particularly helpful having recently erected  an identical tunnel in their own garden, Many thanks too to Helen and John and all the others who offered their help which is much appreciated.








 Prosecco with friends to celebrate completion of the main works. Still a lot of finishing touches to apply.



What's looking good

Although there is still plenty  of autumn colour on trees and shrubs, others had coloured earlier than normal and  many of the leaves had already been shed when the 2 storms blew away many more.

There is still however plenty of colour from herbaceous plants both large and small, none finer than the eagerly awaited Dancing Ladies, forms of Saxifraga fortunei in an ever increasing range of colours and flowers. Natives of the far east, particularly Japan, and China they grow well in moist part shade at the front of borders where they flower from September to November and even into early December if the weather is not too cold; just one proper frost will bring the show to an abrupt end. They are however otherwise totally hardy and will grow larger year on year.

Saxifraga "Wada" one of the largest and best in the autumn garden at  Hergest Croft.


 Typical dainty flowers  of most forms of this group giving it the name of Dancing Ladies









For me newer introductions are less graceful but there are some interesting flower colours coming in especially from Japan. This one is "Beni Tsukasa"



This one is "Pink Candy" and to be honest it just doesn't do it for me!



One that really does is "Shiranami" and it was the same for many members in our local HPS Group, when I gave a talk on them, and for visitors at a recent plant sale. Needless to say all plants sold out. Incredibly floriferous it sports pure white double flowers. Outstanding!





Over the last couple of years I have begun to collect hardy chrysanthemums which are making a comeback after years out  being out of fashion. Another plant with a long season  of flowering and more readily available now. Our friend Richard Bramley  has a good range available at his nursery www.farmyardnurseries.co.uk and just to illustrate how popular they have become, after a feature about them on Gardeners World, his mail order service was inundated  the next day by eager prospecitve purchasers!

 A collection of named forms in pots under cover where they have flowered well and on warmer days give  off a perfume that I hadn't experienced before. We are however all familiar with the scent of the leaves which always remind us of late autumn



I fell in love with this yellow flowered form  which is tall and incredibly floriferous. It has large flower heads with quilled and spooned ray florets  as has "Emperor of China" in pink. I took it to the recent Plant Sale hopeful of selling them all but with no sales I concluded it was the "yellow peril" syndrome that some gardeners have  - you won't believe how many times I have encountered it!



Salvias as always continue to get better as autumn pogresses, responding to the shorter day length as they would do in their native central America. They would happily continue up to Christmas but for the risk of frost. I always dig up some plants from the garden to keep in the polytunnels where their bright colours continue to give pleasure on the dark days of early winter.


Other plants looking good are:-

Liriope Muscari


 Dahlia merckii just one plant the size of a medium shrub. Totally hardy for us.



Another species dahlia excelsa, was collected in southern Mexico at altitude of 2400 metres by Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones of Crug Farm Plants and named  for their granddaughter "Penelope Sky":  it is rare in cultivation. Tall woody stemmed plant up to 3m. tall with attractive very late flowers in  a shade of lilac purple. Hardiness not yet tested






 A bearded iris in late Ocotober - what a month!


The one plant above all that looks good now is the large yew tree  at the entrance to the Paddock Garden which looks its best after its annual clipping, and in all weathers throughout the winter always makes an instant impact. One of my favourite jobs in the garden having rescued it as a straggly 6 foot shrub growing between 2 large Norway spruce that I felled. Now in excess of  50 years old.





Wildlife and Countryside

With very little of interest to write about this month I was wondering what I was going to say, when the day after Ophelia, I saw a cormorant fly slowly over the Paddock Pond. The storm had obviously driven it 30 miles inland to raid the rivers in this part of Carmarthenshire. Fortunately it went on its way without checking out the pond. This is just the third we have had since 1976. 

Severe gales at sea can often drive seabirds inland. the most memorable sighting here in the late 1970's was a Manx Shearwater that should have been on its 11,000 mile journey to the south Atlantic. I picked it up which was not a pleasant experience as they emit a foul smelling liquid from a tube shaped nostril above the bill. I took it to the River Towy just 4 miles away and it was a wonderful experience on release to see it fly away due west down river to the sea. I always wonder if it made it to its southern hemisphere destination.  To learn more about this fascinating bird go to www.animalcorner.co.uk/animals/manx-shearwater-bird/ Sorry if this direct link doesn't work for you. It is worth typing the web address in your search engine as it is an interesting website

Not all sea wildlife is that lucky as it was estimated that after the recent storms,  approx 70% of Atlantic Grey Seal pups on the 3 westernmost islands off Pembrokeshire perished in the storm tossed seas..

Having no other pictures to publish  just in time along came this cheery robin. 




I bet if you have read the excerpt at the heading of this News Item, you will have been dying to know all about our "Trip to Chile". Those of you that know me well are aware that I have never been up in an aeroplane! Quite an admission at my time of life! But there are of course other ways to visit far flung places, and we did just such a thing by driving from Cilgwyn to a garden in the Vale of Glamorgan to which we had been invited by owners Richard and Sue. There were other attractions there too, the main one being the longest established commercial vineyard in Wales. On the only sunny and warm day in October and with the grapes ready for picking, it seemed many miles away. On such a day it could have been a vineyard anywhere in the world, but the presence of llamas  in an adjoining field placed it in South America and since Chilean wines are currently a particular favourite, we decided it was actually Chile!














 Moira wasn't going to let go of this large bottle of Sparkling wine! Classified as a Balthazar if holds 12 litres!


For more info about the vineyard go to www.glyndwrvineyard.co.uk/


From there we went on just a few miles for lunch at  with other new friends Rosamund and Peter Davies of Slade Gardens who have a 7 acre garden leading down to the Heritage Coast at Southerndown. Looking particularly good in Spring there are plenty of planting opportunities in a variety of habitats still to be pursued in a relatively new garden. One of the many highlights was the termination of the garden in fields overlooking a tranquil bay and wide ranging views across the Bristol Channel as far as Exmoor. The garden opens for the NGS every year and Rosamund is the County organiser For information about the garden go to www.ngs.org.uk?bf-garden=4563










The final destination was for a delicious tea in the cottage garden of Lin, a fellow member of our HPS Group who had arranged our outing on such a perfect day which gave us so many special memories.


 Back on more familiar territory was the not to be missed annual end of season Plant Sale at Hergest Croft, Kington, Herefordshire, one of our all time favourite gardens. Now in the care of the 4th generation of the Banks family. visit www.hergest.co.uk  for more info about this very special and much cherished garden. Once again the link doesn't work - try entering the website in your search engine.


















I always start writing my News Items a week ahead of publication and taking the pictures in advance. It can be difficult to keep up to date with developments in the gardens during this time , especially when as in this month, there is a good spell of fair weather.  I have more pictures now but it is not possible to incude them all this month. As it can be difficult to find much to write about next month I will publish them in the November News.

I hope you have had some of the better weather and that in your gardens you still have some good things to enjoy.