Tree dahlia flowers for the first time at Cilgwyn!!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

For once November has felt more like the autumn month it is supposed to be rather than bleak midwinter - remember last year? OK so we did have 2 air frosts that brought to a prompt end all the half hardy and tender stuff that had been flowering their socks off but that apart November was indistinguishable from October. The mild weather meant I could get on with plenty of outdoor jobs and take my time to put all the nursery stock under cover and to bring into the tunnels all the many pots of tender plants from around the gardens - and save a fortune on my heating bills! Highlights were the flowering (under cover) of a large potted tree dahlia for the first time here and continuing to cut the lawns so late into the year. No signs at the moment that there will be much change into December.


The tree dahlia






A mild month with plenty of rain but also some warm, sunny days which in mid month peaked at 15C and some incredibly warm nights, on many occasions remaining at above 10c overnight. Just 2 air frosts on 5 and 6 November, -2c on the 5th and -6C on the 6th. 


Garden Update

Garden is looking very tidy for this time of year thanks to the kind weather, All the leaves cleaned up and spread on the borders to protect herabceous perennials and I am glad to see the back of all the Bramley apples - far more than we could ever give away or use, or to pick. So many of the best ones are outside of the range of my long apple picker but we have plenty stored away and whether they have wanted them or not our neighbours have had plenty! And so have the very grateful blackbirds.

I have repaired the wooden border edges in places where the wood has started to rot and it's amazing how much interest is shown on garden visitors or in talks in the method I use for protecting the border edges, all from 4" or 6" treated  x 1"board and a pack of roofing battens. Those I have replaced were 10 years old so I can't complain. 

I have been able to fully ventilate the frames, greenhouses and polytunnels on a regular basis so there is no botrytis or moulds yet and the plants under cover look well and many are continuing to grow away. Hope they don't get too advanced because there is still a lot of winter to get through.

It wouldn't be gardening if there weren't a downside somewhere and 3 current bugbears in no particular order are slugs (so many in all sizes everywhere in the gardens and protected areas), whitefly especially in the big tunnel thanks to the presence of tomatoes and fuchsias there, and carrot fly. It serves me right for bragging up my carrot crop but recently they have become more of a problem. As the grubs which cause the damage overwinter in the soil it was imperative to to dig up all the remaining crop for storing in sand or peat over winter. 

Still plenty of good carrots to enjoy with cabbages, sprouts, broccoli, leeks, parsnips, beetroot, celeriac, turnips, celery, salad leaves and tomatoes, together with from store, potatoes, onions, shallots and garlic.

One last task I am pleased to have largely finished has been the removal of large clumps of herbaceous perennials which were beginning to take over parts of the borders especially phlox, ligularias, hardy geraniums. hemerocallis, asters, anemone japonica and acanthus. This will provide more planting opportunties next spring.

Finally I managed in the drier interludes to complete gathering all the seed I am going to get this year - less than last year but better than none at all!


Whats looking good?


At this time of year there aren't too many contenders but the stand out performer by a mile is the tree dahlia (dahlia imperalis) I have grown for the last few years in large pots more in hope than expectation because it flowers so late and is very tender, but this year it did us proud in the large poytunnel. At a 45 degree angle because at 10 feet tall it was too big to stand upright in the tunnel, its large clusters of 4" individual flowers is quite a sight in a colour that I could only describe as "Windowlene" Lilac/lavender/pink (older readers will get the idea!) with bright yellow stamens. If you don't like the idea there is a white form which is absolutely breathtaking especially when planted outside. Gardening isn't always about instant gratification so I can't tell you what a thrill it is to have flowered one at last - it's at times like this I get my greatest gardening satisfaction!


Me showing great satisfaction!!



There are also some cyclamen coum coming into flower, and helleborus x hybridus both in the garden and pots in the nursery mostly in shades of white which is usually the case with the early flowering forms, reflecting perhaps the flowering time of one of the cross parents.

 Cyclamen coum



Under cover there is a good array of plants in flower especially brugmansias, their scent on milder nights in the confines of the tunnels even more intoxicating and welcome than in the height of summer.

 Brugmansias in December with lots of buds to come - amazing



Plenty of pelargoniums and fuchsias too, streptorocarpus. impatiens including the small flowered but very floriferous kilimanjari x pseudowintera which will flower all winter if I can keep it warm enough, and begonias in various forms. I am pleased that one of my many tender nerines has flowered this year. Even though I appear to do all the right things they rarely flower but when they do it makes up for all the disappointments.

Impatiens kilimanjari x pseudowintera



 Nerine sarniensis



Any colour at this time of year is a bonus so we don't ignore the obvious attractions of Christmas cactus and "florists" cyclamen which are plentiful at this time of year and ideal for a cool room or heated tunnel/greenhouse. I plan to have some pots of sarcocca (sometimes called Christmas box because of its usually shiny leaves - but no box is ever scented like they are) and although fully hardy and will happily flourish ouside, in a tunnel or greenhouse they will scent the whole area with a heady, exotic scent. Perfect for the cold winter days that are surely to come sooner or later.


 Wildlife and countryside

 A very quiet and uneventful month after the "excitement" of last month. However mice are much in evidence especially in the tunnels as they are nice and warm and there is plenty of food, a whole tray of recently potted rhodohypoxis devoured over just one night.

Our most common bird, if one excludes all the pestilent crows and magpies, is the blackbird. They are never far away and tamer than robins so they carry on pecking at windfall apples when we are just inches away from them and will readily take worms from me when I am turning over the ground. There seems to be a family trait here with many birds showing white in their plumage to a greater or lesser extent. We rarely see an all black "blackbird" so will have to think of another name for them!

An interesting consequence of the mild autumn is the regrowth on some wild flowers especially hedge or cow parsley and meadowsweet, both of which are currently in flower. The white spears of emerging snowdrops are clearly visible too in the hedgerows. 



Three talks in November one memorably in the Metropole Hotel in Llandrindod Wells, the largest venue we have ever been to for a talk. A 120 bedroom hotel with a lecture room a long way away from the car park. It did seem a bit odd however and made quite a contrast with the homely village halls and vestries that are the usual venues. Talks on hold now until February when they start again in earnest until early April. I do miss them and meeting so many lovely people and kindred spirit gardeners.

We went to a talk ourselves in mid month to a Hardy Plant Society meeting of the Hereford and Mid Wales Group to hear Val Bourne, a well known garden writer and speaker, talk about First Class Perennials. It's always informative to hear how other speakers deliver a talk and to pick up ideas and opinions to shape our future talks. It was an enjoyable and informative talk and we had the opportunity of speaking to Val afterwards. If you know her writings, she comes across face to face exactly as she does in her writings and is exceptionally passionate and knowledgeable. A good afternoon.

Although it seems a strange time of year to go garden visiting we decided spend a few days in Dorset for my birthday earlier this week to see Abbotsbury Sub Tropical Gardens near Weymouth and Bicton Park Botanic Gardens near Exeter. Very different gardens but each impressive in their own way. It was difficult to choose a favourite but because of its age (over 200 years since original conception) strong emphasis on plants and unique location, Abbotsbury was something very special. 20 acres of intensely packed mostly woodland gardens still showing lots of colour with many rare and tender plants. Apart from Christmas Day and Boxing Day the gardens are open all year round. I can't believe they would ever be dull at any time of year. There is also a great nursery, gift shop and restaurant. The highlight for me having waxed lyrically earlier in this News item about dahlia imperalis, was to see the white flowered form in full bloom outdoors supported by some large and impressive blue salvia guarnitica. Dear reader it saddens me beyond words to tell you that all the pics I took of it to share with you were not captured by my lousy and unreliable (and expensive) digital camera. As I deliver my talks using 35m slides I hope they will record a very special planting combination in a truly breathtaking garden. 


Abbotsbury Pics

The colonial tearooms




Plants from the jurassic era including tree ferns and bamboos



The Stream Garden with one of the lovely red bridges and ginko in glorious butter yellow autumn colour



Bicton Park Palm House

Outside and inside views showing lovely "fish scale" glazing