The Merrie Month of May

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

If ever there was a time of year to make you feel joyful,  the garden in May always takes some beating. This year when my own health issues and the constant cold weather throughout April left me feeling down at times,  the surge of growth from the second week of May onwards has  lifted the spirits and made me feel alive again.

The Paddock Garden


Green tapestry at Cilgwyn Lodge


 Green tapestry at Gelli Mydog - for more details see "Visits" below


For me gardening is a source of constant renewal, of hope and expecation and thanks to the help and support of many friends the garden now looks as well as ever in late May. Although I have reduced my 3 vegetable beds to 2 by grassing over one of them for ease of maintenance, in all other respects the gardens look pretty much the same as they have done in previous years. With no pressure from NGS openings this year we have more time to enjoy the garden and to get out and about which we have not been able to do for the last 17 years. Hopefully this News Item will convey some of the joys of the garden in May.



On the whole it was almost a perect May for the gardener. Sunshine and long dry spells, good rain just when we needed it and increasing warmth. A  few late scares with overnight temperatures close to freezing towards the end of the month, but horti fleece once again came to the rescue to ensure no damage to the most precious and tender plants. As always it seems here in May, the wind was predominantly  from the east which ensured the dry weather to work outside and plan the days work in advance so that the list of essential jobs is diminshing fast. 10 days over 20c max 24c on Sunday 8th. 15 nights under 10c min 0c on Wednesday 4th.


Garden Update

Lush growth everywhere, lawns needing mowing up to 5 times a week after a good feeding. Like every other gardener in the land however the weeds are growing quickeer than anything else! Vegetables are doing well and some early crops of lettuce coming in - cut and come again lettuce "Can Can",  a long lasting variety,  "Lollo Rosso" to give colour and soft texture to a mixed salad and an old favourite "Little Gem" a delightful form of Cos and the perfect ingredient for the first of the Caesar Salads.


Most of the 30 tomato plants have been planted in 15 -20 litre pots in the large tunnel, half filled with well rotted sheep manure and topped up with a home made, nutrient rich, heavy duty John Innes compost.

As I have sown far less seed this year the Nursery does not take up nearly as much time but there are still some special ornamental plants  and veggies to prick out and grow on especially brassicas, sweetcorn, courgettes and runner beans.

Roses (over 60 of them) are looking good after heavy March fertilising with speciality Rose Food and a good spraying for black spot which is a constant concern in some of the roses, particularly I find those from David Austin. Those from Delbard of France and Poulson of Denmark seem to be much more black spot resistant.

The woodlanders are having a great time before the canopy grows over them. Epimediuims have had a good year and brunneras look great just now, with their lovely elegant stems of blue flowers often likened to forget-me-nots but much nicer and nowhere near as invasive.

Brunnera macrophylla in the woodland garden


Other plants which had their special moments in May included:-

Dwarf rhododendron "Bow Bells"


Paeonia mlokosewitschii


The wonderful white variegated form of honesty, so beautiful I forgive its self seeding transgressions (unlike all the others we grow!)


Maianthemum racemosum in a favourite position in the cool moist shade of the stream garden


One of several forms of podyphylum in the gardens (for moist shade) is P. hexandrum showing one of of its short lived flowers and dramatic leaves, a stand out feature of the genus


The elegant enchanting buttons of ranunculus aconitifolius Flore  Pleno commonly known as bachelor's Buttons or Fair Maids of Kent/France


 Native hawthorns have had a wonderful flowering this Spring. On the old field boundary at Cilgwyn is this fine specimen adorned with a mature pink clematis montana, a happy combination.


Having promised myself for some years, a shade area in the nursery I finally got around to making one last week and all the hostas and ferns seem to be enjoying it already.


 I mentioned in  last month's News that for the first time in 40 years there will be no hanging baskets at Cilgwyn Lodge. Moira came up with a cunning plan to go for a no maintenance option, so now we have stainless steel twirlies where the baskets used to be - 45 minutes saved each day at a stroke!!


Finally and one of my favourite jobs of the year, is to remove excess pond weed from the Paddock Pond. From a very early age I have always had a fascination for pond life in the true sense of the words! and have a vivid memory at around the age of 3 or 4, of picking up a large frog with its backside facing towards me  which I learnt is not a good idea as it promptly urinated all over the clean white shirt my mother had only just dressed me in  - she was not  best pleased!


I always go into the pond in full length chest waders in which I cut quite a dash!  until losing my dignity I stumble over numerous obstructions at the bottom of the pond! The best thing of all is to be in  nearly 5 feet of water at eye level with the many Rudd and rapidly growing carp. There are myriads of smaller pond life indicating the good health of the pond which has a constant flow of fresh stream water, including freshwater shrimp, dragonfly fly larvae at all stages of development, newts and efts (their tadpole like young) and pond snails. Fortunately  not a single great diving beetle or water boatman was found - they are voracious predators of smaller pond life including young fish of which there are substantial numbers.

Perhaps the most unusual of the many plants in or at the pond edge is this fine specimen of Orontium aquaticum from North America

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 What's looking good?

Only 4 contenders for me currently at the peak of perfection:- Bearded Iris, Euphorbias, Hostas and Viburnums. Sorry everything else, your turn will come!

Last month at the Monet to Matisse exhibition in London I marvelled at the many paintings of waterlilies by Monet over the years, but the most impressionistic of all his paintings in the exhibition were undoubtedly those featuring bearded iris, the intense blobs of colours of various hues standing out from the hazy background of the wonderful bluish spear like leaves. 

This excellent Gold Medal winning display on The British Iris Society stand at Malvern Spring Festival with more than an impressionistic nod to Monet


 We can't quite compete with that but we do have some particularly fine cultivars here on the sunniest and best drained of all our borders







Euphorbias are in the very large euphorbiaceaea family, ( approx 300 genera and 7,000 species and countless cultivars from  extremes of habitats all over the world)  They have a good representation in the current edition of The Plant Finder, with a wide range of choice for a variety of planting situations. Although some have yet to flower this year, their structure and leaves already make  quite an impression in the borders and they will look good until late summer. Some do seed around quite vigorously and others spread by runners. They also emit an irritating white latex like sap when cut.

This is a scented form and an unusual cross between e. stygiana and e. mellifera. Called  x pasteuri the 2 parent plants first came together by chance! at Oxford University Botanic Gardens  where seedlings we first spotted by the then Director of the gardens. It is a shrub like plant up to 8 feet and is said to be hardy but in our frost pocket garden it stays in a large pot and is given winter protection in a polytunnel before bringing outside in May


E.cyparassiasis a low growing, early flowering form that is charming in its own way but spreads like the wind and needs controlling.


 Unlike most of its hardy companions which are yellow/lime green, e. griffithii has this wonderful  orange red infloresense and burnt orange red hues to its leaves. For us it grows (and spreads!) exceptionally well in part shade and very dry soil. Looks great in May with bluebells.


 Emerging leaves of later flowering E.shillingii


E. palustris "Walenburgs Glorie" is one of the earliest flowering taller forms and is unusual in that it prefers permanently damp soil.


A recent acquisition is e. cornigera with fantastic leaf markings. I haven't yet seen it in flower.


One of my lasting gardening regrets during 40 years at Cilgwyn, is in not planting more trees and shrubs in the early days. However as a passionate herbaceous plantsman and dedicated veg grower, these always took priority. I did plant some trees and shrubs and it is only now that they are mature I realise their impact and ease of maintenance. Fortunately of the shrubs I did plant many were viburnums of various cultivars and several species forms. Collectively they cover a flowering period from late March to June, most having good scent and some autumn colour. There are about 250 species and cultivars available in the UK and we have just a small fraction, but they have for the most part, proved to be reliable and robust, even though they have a reputaion for sudden death syndrome from numerous causes, most commonly honey fungus.

V. plicatum is a vigorous form with tiered branches. As you can see I didn't give this one enough room when I planted it over 20 years ago!



Attractive lace cap flowers of V. sargentii onondaga


A more recent planting of a fairly new form, V. Kilimanjaro which is upright with good flowers, and in autumn has red berries and good leaf colour


 The largest in the garden at 15 feet is v.rhytidophyllum with shiny leathery leaves generous flowers and black berries later in the year. It is evergreen


And finally a long term garden favourite the so called snowball tree with round heads of flowers on a rather straggly, tall shrub, is v. opulis sterile


Many regular visitors to the gardens and the website will know of my fanatical affection  for hostas stretching back over 40 years. I am losing count of the cultivars we have but it must now exceed well over 200. They have been desperately slow this Spring but at last they have burst into full growth




 A huge plant of H. Sagae which is 4 feet across and 2 feet tall first planted 12 years ago.


 A real special favourite of mine is the wonderfully named Lakeside Love Affaire from the well respected Lakeside Nursery in the US. The colours are just spellbinding -funnily enough the Lakeside Nursery has a cultivar of that name!

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Alongside the hostas behind the Koi Pond is a growing colony of the shuttlecock fern which revels in the same moist part shaded position as the hostas.


Just before going to print I was forced to relent on only including 4 genus, as the first of the big poppies have just started to flower, a significant event in the gardening year for those of us who grow and love them!

Meconopsis fertile group "Lingholm"


 Papaver orientale "Beauty of Livermere" at twilight when red seems to show its true colour 


Wildlife and Countryside

There are baby birds everywhere, some a lot more cute than others. We have found several nests in the gardens. The robins I reported on last moth managed to fledge their young successfully, and in the same pot store area a pair of the delightful pied wagtails raised a brood that was easier to monitor than the robins and in just 18 days or so the eggs hatched and the fledging time was about the same - new life in just over a month. Incredible. The young birds were quite vulnerable in the nest because it was open at the front and accessible to the pair of magpies and their young which also had their nest in the gardens. However I managed to make the nest secure by boarding over the pot store,  a rather Heath Robinson job but it did the trick and it was so good to see the young wagtails fly away, to scuttle all over the house roof we hope, in their permanent quest for insects. 


A most welcome summer visitor was the return after some years of  redstarts, a pair of which chose for their nest, a convenient hole in the soffit of verndah roof.

On the wildflower front the wood anemones were outstanding everywhere we went, none more so than in woodland adjacent to the M50 in Gloucestershire, close to where we saw the wild daffodils last month. I would love to have taken a pic but as so often with some of the most special sitiations, there was nowhere to stop!

 The latest star plant is the hedge parsley, cow parsley, queen Anne's lace - whatever is your local name for anthriscus. There is not a lane around here that isn't adorned with it and the hope is that the local council isn't too quick to cut back the verges this year.



As many readers will know we are sadly not opening the garden this year for the NGS. It does seem strange after 16 consecutive years of opening. However the good news is that just 5 miles away from us, our very good friends Robert and Barry are opening their 2 acre garden for the NGS on 5 June, which will be their first of what we hope will be many openings in the future. It is a relatively new garden, only 4 years in the making, but already looking good with herbaceous and shrub borders, new large stream garden, superb sweeping manicured lawns and fantastic views across upland landscape in the Brecon Beacons National Park. We shall be there with a terrific range of plants for sale, there will be home made teas and all this for only £3.50 !! Please come and support them on the NGS Festival Weekend. Garden signposted  with yellow NGS signs from Llangadog and Llandovery.

Gelli mydog surrounded by its ring of hills 


Other vists during the month included Malvern Spring Festival and Llwyn Garreg  near Whitland For more details of this outstanding garden and opening dates go to

Some pics from Malvern






 One of the best things we saw there was the competition for primary schools to design a garden based on a Shakespearean theme. There were some outstanding efforts of which this was judged the best.


 Great to see involvement of children in gardening at such an early age many of whom will have no mentors in their families as most children of my generation had. As Gertrude Jekyll once famously remarked that "Love of gardening is a seed that once sown, never dies"