The multi -hued colour palette of August

Sunday, September 4, 2016

August is often maligned as a difficult month in the garden, when it takes a break before the blaze of early autumn and the slow slide into winter. It can also be a very variable month weatherwise, especially in West Wales. 

Always a favourite border in the Paddock Garden at this time of year, is the part shady border. Now at it's peak with the blazing yellow of rudbeckia fulgida "Goldsturm" - 2 months of never ending beauty. 


But travel just 200 miles to South east England as we did, and it is a very different picture with consistently hot sunny weather and drought like conditions.

The field car park at Hyde Hall with scarcely a trace of any grass


On balance however, I don't think I would swap our mixed bag of weather, because this year after a mild and very wet winter and a cold spring, growth has been immense and many plants have continued to flower well into August to join forces with the stalwarts of late summer. Grass has remained green and the countryside all around us looks contented, as do the livestock with plenty to graze upon.


 Just 6 miles away from us are the foothills of the Brecon Beacons and the Carmarthenshire Fans (mountains)



And to keep you reading until the end, what is this? In the news during the early part of August




A very mixed bag but the dominant features were plenty of rain, occasional very strong winds, some hot days and many mild nights. Much better overall than last August which was predominantly cold and wet with just 2 days over 21C and some nights as low as 5C. This months figures Max 25C on 2 occasions and a further 16 days over 21C. Just 2 nights below 10C lowest 7C on 9th.

On the only clear night during the phase of meteor showers, I was out at 2.30 am to take some pics (am I nuts or what?!!)  but the showers  failed to put in appearance so the moon will have to do!




 But every cloud has a silver lining!



Garden update

Most areas of the gardens look well with a good range of veggies in quantity, which even with one less vegetable bed we are finding it difficult to keep up with! Peas and broad beans were excellent but are now finished, carrots still fly free and "Amsterdam" an older variety keeping us well supplied with long finger like very sweet carrots. Brassicas planted for succession continue to benefit from application of Perlka that I wrote about at length last month. Tomatoes have at last got into their stride with my 2 old favourites  "Gourmet" a standard size and the small plum "Rosada" continuing  to earn their place with intensely flavoured well balanced taste. Grown in 15 litre deep pots filled with equal amounts of sheep manure and top quality home made, loam based growing medium, I rarely need to feed them.

Potatoes came to harvest earlier than I would have liked after such a late planting,  because of a sudden attack of blight at the end of July and the attention of rats that required me to dig them as quickly as possible!!

A meagre crop by my usual standards but with only half the amount planted and very late I was quite pleased. Some choice varieties - Venezia, Exquisa, Charlotte and Maris Peer to enjoy well into autumn and early winter.


In the flower borders there has been so much to admire individually and collectively that it is difficult to believe that they have had far less attention than in previous years. It is amazing how the perennials have kept going for so long, many of them first plantings from 1999 onwards.

Clematis are notoriously slow to get going but once they do as in c. "Flore Pleno", they pump up out late flowers from July onwards, For me far suprior than the blowsy early large flowered forms which always get wilt here. Reputedly introduced in the UK in the 16thC.


The large clumps of asters, phlox, the daisy tribe and some impatiens to name just a few, should have been split may years ago but as they are still in good condition I just let them get on with it.  Some of the shrubs which are at least 10 years older than the perennials, are beginning to show their age especially the elders, wiegelias and some viburnums. Others however continue to thrive and give great delight, many having been planted as young plants in 2 or 3 litre plants. I am so glad that I have been able to see the mature specimens with my own future being so uncertain.

 The Red Border was planted between 1998 and 2000 and most of the original plantings are still going strong. Dahlias are never dug up for winter here.





The Yellow Border in the House Garden is 15 years old


 Fuchsia "Lady Bacon" my favourite hardy fuchsia, which benefitted from the mild winter and is flowering on old wood to at least 4 feet tall and covered in flowers in part shade.


Not yet old enough to be considered mature at only 18 feet or so, but this purple leaved version of the Indian Bean Tree flowered for the first time this year having been planted 10 years ago. 


 I am really pleased with how this planting combination has worked out. Young plants over 10 years old, they have all kept pace with each other and reached maturity at the same time. From the left - phlox paniculata "Miss Pepper", the white form of Veronicastrum and Hydrangea "Vanille Fraise" blending in perfect harmony. The effect is enhanced by the dark backround.




The only down side recently has been the first moles we have ever had in the lawns. In the space of just 4 days an area of 10 sq, metres has been decimated with tunnels near the surface and the customary molehills comprising only the finest soil!!. I called in a "mole man" straight away who told me that they are a particular problem this year as our ground is so wet that most of the worms their main prey, are on the surface so the moles don't have to dig so deeply.


What's looking good?

If you are a regular reader of my Monthly News you will know that it is picture gallery time!!

Some real stars this month from the gems of South Africa to the stalwarts of the far east and central and south America. So sit back and enjoy the ride!! Around the world in plant pictures.

South Africa

A collection of agapanthus cultivars 






 Sky rockets by night - kniphofia uvaria nobilis 7 feet tall


Crocosmia masonoria blending beautifully with euphorbia donii "Amjilassa" from the Himalayas and geranium "Roxanne" whose provenance is the subject of some debate!


 The Far East

Cautleya spicata, a member of the ginger family which is very happy in moist shade which is why it does so well here


 In the same family from particularly areas bordering the Himalayas, is the genus roscoea,  represented here by cultivars "Red Gurkha" and  "Dalai Lama".




 The wonderful flowers of hosta plantaginea are the best  in the genus, 3-4" long and highly scented. Needs warm weather to flower well which is why this plants stays in the large tunnel year round. It had quite a journey to get to us from a garden in Italy, a kind gift from friends Olga and Allan. It was division from a plant in Olga's mothers garden and is a much treasured plant.


Lilium "Miss Feya" a cultivar in the Tree Lily section



South America

Salvias come mostly from Central America and are stalwarts of late summer/autumn borders but are slow this year

S. involucrata bethellii long established here and very hardy.



Probably the most popular at the moment is s. "Amistad", tall and imposing and up to 4 feet tall


 "Dysons Joy" bred at Great Comp (see below) by William Dyson a world authority on Salvias 


Lobelia tupa from Chile is not considered totally hardy but it has survived here in very well drained soil and a sheltered position for 12 years and made a huge clump.


 Alstroemerias are endemic to S. America but this is a recent cultivar. "Indian Summer" may be something of a misnomer but is a fine plant with very dark leaves and intensely vibrant flowers. Long flowering from July until September. 


Back in Wales this fine study in shades of blue includes thalictrums, hydrangea aspera "Macrophylla" and the long flowering veronicastrum virginicum "Album"


 Hydrangea paniculata "Vanille Fraise",  a fine unknown phlox and  echinops bannaticus.



A mixed collection of some of the 80+ hydrangeas at Cilgwyn Lodge 



Wildlife and countryside

A continual theme of this summer has been the absence of winged insects in particular wasps, butterflies and dragonflies. A beekeeper who has hives just a few yards down the lane from us laments the lack of honey this year and has had major problems with his bees swarming.

Only cabbage white butterflies have put in an appearance over the last few weeks, other than that just a few Peacocks and Red Admirals. However the insects I miss the most are the large dragonflies like the Emperor which have attitude and fly straight at you with that clattering menace of their large wings. No threat to us of course but any other flying insect is hunted down and the aerial combats are a joy to behold and the hunted does not always come off second best!

Peacock butterfly on phlox  a favorite with butterlies and a litmus test of how many there are.


Two young hedgehogs were welcome visitors in the nursery area and readily took the dried catfood we put down for them. It is said that if you see a hedgehog in the daytime there is something wrong with them and sadly that proved to be correct  as we later found one of them dead in the garden. 

I wrote last year about the first signs of ash dieback here and this summer it is more advanced with entire branches defoliated on many trees and in some cases the whole tree. It seems to be evident across a wide age range.

To end on a brighter note there are  Kingfishers in abundance and along the stream plenty of Dippers. However we no longer see the Heron on the Paddock pond which is a relief.



A long weekend away at the beginning of August  to the balmy South East was the highlight of the month. We visited 3 gardens: Lullingstone Castle and Great Comp near Sevenoaks in Kent and RHS Hyde Hall near Chelmsford in Essex across the dreaded Dartford Crossing on the M25 - delays of 90 minutes are commonplace!!  More details about each of them can be found on their websites.

The main reason of the trip was a return visit to Lullingstone and Tom Hart- Dyke who has become a good friend since we first met him in 2009. This for us was the best part of the weekend. 


The World Garden which is the centrepiece, has grown enormously and Tom had added new polytunnels to house his large collections of cacti, orchids and many other tender and unusual plants.










 This remarkable likeness of a baobab tree in the African garden is manufactured from coils of steel wire and highly effeective

Another high quality sculpture in steel


It was good to see plants we had supplied to him doing so well in the tunnels and outside. It is a fabulous plants persons destination with a passionate and highly knowledgeable horticulturist at the helm, which shines through in  the imaginative planting and artefacts skillfully placed around the gardens.

The 15thC gate house which is Tom's home. The castle no longer exists but there is a fine Georgian mansion in it's place


 Tom's living room is comfortable and relaxing and is watched over by a portrait  (which appears to sit on Tom's shoulder!!) allegedly of Queen Anne who visited Lullingstone during her rein. 


Tom is the very best of company and it was good to meet his multi talented girlfriend Camilla who is a producer of TV garden programmes. As you can imagine we had an interesting discussion about the coverage of gardening on TV!!


RHS Hyde Hall was a complete contrast and quite alien  to us as the garden is set in one of the driest parts of the UK with less than 20 inches of rain (65-70 inches here!) and bitter easterly winds in the winter.

No hedges, fences or livestock just wide sky and miles of arable land.


Many parts of the gardens were parched and much of the planting for our tastes was unimaginative and repetitive,  perhaps reflecting the plant availability in such a challenging location.







There was however that weekend a Flower Festival with many good nurseries, sundries and food stalls. One thing which struck us most forcibly was the large number of younger people in attendance, buying plants and evidently keen gardeners - hope for the future!


Great Comp is a mature and much loved private garden set around an old house. Like many long established gardens it is relaxed and comfortable, has some great planting and one thing we always look for is a natural flow so that you never retrace your steps - quite a feat in a large garden. It has a large collection of salvias some of which were for sale (sadly not as many varieties as I would have liked) but some good plantings of them in the gardens which do well there in the warm climate.










 And now the answer to the question  I asked at the beginning. It's the shadow of a BFG of course. A Big Friendly Gardener!!


 A prize for you if you got it right - a big bunch of the stars of the month!



 And if you didn't get the answer right, as a consolation prize, a small posy of alstroemeria, dicliptera sericea  and dhalias.