The Dark Days of Dank December

Friday, December 23, 2016

Every December I struggle to find enough items to make for interesting reading in the monthly news. It always reminds me of an event that took place a long time ago on the relatively new BBC  radio News Broadcasts. At 6.30 pm on April 18th 1930 the announcer introduced the news but said that, as there was no news, piano music would be played instead!! In our News and social media obsessed  age I find it rather refreshing! (To read more about this fascinating event, type "The day there was no news" into your search engine.)

I am not yet however resorting to piano music, nice as that would be. So stay with me for the last publication of what turned out to be a much better year than we could ever have  imagined when I was in hospital during January and February.  My cancer remains stable and although that could change at any time, it is the best possible way to end the year.



As at the time of writing (21st) it hasn't been that bad a month especially when compared with the non - stop rain a year ago when we were well into a period of 77 consecutive days with rain. However it has been very dismal at times and dull; dark too as the shortest day loomed. Very cold to start the month with a min of -7.5C on 1st but quickly getting warmer to a max of 15.1C on 7th and 9 other days above10C. 11 rain days

A superb full moon mid month was one of the best of the year and fortunate that we had  clear skies to enjoy it

Rising yellow/orange it slowly turned to the more familiar white





Garden update and what's looking good?

The relatively stable weather gave me a great opportunity to complete many outdoor jobs, the key one being the  completion of cutting back with a hedge trimmer, all the 17 different borders in the garden.


It is a major task requiring the removal of up to 500 plant supports before I can even start! A small amount of material has already been cleared away but there is still plenty to cart away.

I do love the opportunity for the occasional bonfire to dispose of the material when it is dry enough.


Linked to the clean up is the careful cutting back of the old leaves on all the 200+ hellebores around the gardens ensuring not to cut off the emerging flowers.

A Clump of 9 large plants before cutting back


 All that is left after cutting back! Trust me there are plenty of emerging flower buds left in this group.


It is a long time since the vegetable beds were limed, so apart from those destined for potatoes next year (lime creates scab), all the other beds were treated with a standard application of lime  for good loam soil - 16ozs per square yard.

Polytunnels and greenhouse have all been cleared up and gas heaters primed and ready for action. We have been able to ventilate regularly to reduce the build up of botrytis in the humid conditions. It is not unusual to have readings of above 75% humidity on mild rainy days.

My weather monitor in the large tunnel showing humidity today of 81%. Sorry about the poor picture quality caused by reflected light on the glass




Last month I mentioned that we were still cropping outdoor lettuces and salad leaves and this continued well into December until yesterday when I picked the last harvest of  mixed cut and come again lettuce, rocket, mizuna, leaf mustard and a fine iceberg lettuce "Lakeland". Back to the supermarket "pillow packs" from now on!



There are only 6 flowering plants in the garden:- the incomparable iberis "Betty Swainson" I wrote about last month. 1 hellebore x hybridus and 1 slug infested helleborus niger, quite an achievement to have one in flower for the festive season ( this time last year there were 47 hellebores in flower). Helleborus foetidus. A very late flowering on liriope muscari  and the current star of the garden mahonia x media "Charity"

Whatever the winter this is always the first hellebore to flower in the gardens


 The helleborus niger in the garden  was so pathetic it wasn't worth a picture! This is what it should look like. A potted plant from one of the cold frames. The variety is "Christmas Carol" which I find very floriferous and the plant gets stronger each year. This form of hellebore can be difficult to please and in many cases short lived.


The first primrose to flower - this one is a creamy white.


Several helleborus foetidus plants from seed which found a niche in the sparse soil on top of a wall. Great foliage and lime green flowers. Not long lived but generous with its seeds.


 Mahonia x media "Charity" 


 Great heady perfume which is a magnet for hive bees, followed by clusters of purple berries in spring. Vicious spines on the leaves!


Not a rose to be seen which is most unusual as there are usually a few in flower into December. The period of sharp frosts appears to have devastated all the developing buds.


There is however a limited amount of foliage plants to admire. A nice contrast between hellebore, ferns and cyclamen leaves. No cyclamen coums yet in flower.


 Arum italicum "Marmoratum". It would be nice if the berries were still there but the birds had the lot in the cold spell! The plant is still a lovely feature throughout the winter, especially with snowdrops and cyclamen coum growing through it.


As usual the refuge of greenhouse and tunnels holds some choice flowers, more than justifying the costs of heating them.

Salvia leucantha dug up from the garden last month still flowering well in a large pot. It is still producing new flowers and makes quite a statement at 4 feet tall.


 Getting bigger and better every year are these pots of velthemia grown from seed 4 years ago. Wonderful deep green shiny leaves set off the flowers beautifully.


 Almost a rival to the velthemia is this wonderful dark leaf of colocasia "Black Magic"



Widlife and countryside

"Home birds" in abundance but as yet no winter migrants in the form of fieldfares or redwings. You can always rely on the bird of  many Christmas cards to put in an appearance whenever you are working in the garden and have the camera to hand!

This cheeky chap wasn't so keen on this pic. and asked me to publish  another one!




Blackbirds have loved the windfall Bramleys and eat them to a shell of skin.




In the surrounding fields only the sheep are grazing, the cattle now  being in their winter quarters.

Note the fine stands of natural coppicing oaks which occur when the main trunks die back . This woodland is  well over 100 years old and is endemic to north east Carmarthenshire. I have cut  for firewood and carted many tons of the dead trunks over the years


 Trees really come into their own in the winter showing off their fine structure

The beech tree in the garden that was just a sapling 40 years ago (Yes the sky really was that colour!)


 Not such a good day to show off the fine tracery of an ash tree. It may be a rare sight soon with ash dieback now rampant in our part of Wales.


 On a tree theme, I have grown up with log fires and cutting, splitting and stacking wood is a task I still really enjoy.




Following our visit to Waddesdon Manor last month we became hooked on large gardens illuminated for the winter. On a perfect winters day, to satisfy our hunger for more, we went to Powis Castle, 100 miles away . And what a treat we had and only pictures, very difficult to compose in the testing light conditions, can do it justice!






 Perhaps the most impressive thing is that the lighting makes the most of the all natural features such as the huge backdrop of the 350 year old yew hedges, augmented by a garden tool themed Christmas tree.

And the faded seed heads of  pampas grass and shrubs in this picture






Japanese grass hakanechloa macra transformed by ever changing colours.




Natural lights bringing an almost jungle feel to the woodland area alongside the Lower Lawn



All the elements come together in this final pic.with the castle at the top


If you have never been to Powis it is a truly spectacular garden at any time of the year and well worth a long journey.

Much closer to home is Carmarthen our county town, which we visit regularly. It has a good range of local shops and national chains and retains it's country town feel even though the central livestock market made way some years ago for a new retail development. One of the best reasons to go is that every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday Farmyard Nurseries, owned by our friends Richard and Hazel, has an outdoor stall year round in the street market. It is a large nursery and has a very wide range of plants for all seasons.  For more information about the nursery and in particular mail order and hellebores go to At this time of year however it is their homemade Christmas wreaths that catch the eye and bring a country Christmas to town. 

This is just a small selection of them all made by the staff at the nursery 


On a suitably festive note we wish all our many friends, gardening acquaintances and visitors to the website, every good wish for Christmas and the New Year. Thank you for reading and all the kind comments and e-mails we have received about our humble website and the pleasure that it gives. I hope to be able to continue publishing News Items  (or piano music!) well into 2017.

Keith and Moira XX