The most perfect Spring brings forward the darling buds of May

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Gardeners are never normally satisfied! but May has excelled all expecations and I could not have wished for a better month. Growth is exceptional and my sap has oveflowed with joy!! It goes to show what can happen when favourable weather conditions converge: plenty of rain to feed the rapidly growing plants, warmer days and nights, little wind and just 7 frosts all spring (9 last year in April alone). The combined effect has brought forward the gardening year by 2 - 3 weeks. In our part of Wales it is unusual to have such an early spring but all gardens have benefited, none more so than those with large rhododendron and azalea collections. Although we don't have many, those we do have flowered fantastically, All other early herbaceous plants too have put on a magical show.The followings pictures give a flavour of the month. This is a monster News edition as there is is so much to report.


Picton Castle  40 acres of gardens (with  many rhododendrons and azaleas) to explore. The walled garden and woodland gardens are superb



I am not a great fan of lilac even though it has a tolerable scent in May. but the flowers of this form at Spetchley Park were really attractivewith very generous flower panicles



RHS Malvern Spring Festival on a dismal day. My favourite view of the entire showground , smaller nurseries against the background of the Malvern Hills, some of England's finest scenery



Back at Cilgwyn the superb lacecap hydrangea like flowers of viburnum sargentii "Onondaga"



A seed grown clematis sown 2007 from wild collected seed in Japan - all the world in a garden!



The view across the Paddock Pond now cleaned of blanketweed with primula candalabra x in the foreground



In the polytunnel the unusual flowers of a recent introduction mathiasella bupleuroides "Green Dream" The flowers turn to lilac as they fade. Likes some shade and is not fully hardy.




No frosts in May was an event to celebrate as I can't renember the last time it happened. There were a couple of scares on 14th and 15th May when the nightime temperature dropped to 2C and the "snowmen" came out briefly (see March 2014 news for an explanation) but other than this every other night was above 6C which ensured that plants kept growing. On six days mid month, day time temperatures exceeded 20C with a max of 23C on 16th. Some heavy rain on and off and in the heat of mid month, a few thunderstorms broke out. Winds generally light from the easterly or north westerly quarter.

Lovely pink tinged clouds over the view to the north from the Lodge with a fine stand of hedge parsley in the foreground



Garden Update

A really busy month with every area of the garden and nursery demanding attention, plenty of watering to do in the nursery and recent plantings in the gardens adding to the workload. Usually I don't  get in until 10pm after completing the watering. Thank goodness for light evenings!

Whilst most areas are well ahead of normal, the vegetable garden is struggling to catch up. Although the weather has been good it has been difficult to work the soil  because it has been very slow to dry out sufficiently to sow seeds. Potatoes however are on the move, carrots, beetroot and onions growing away and all early brassicas planted. The first of the early summer cabbage "Hispi" is heading nicely and early caulifower "Snowball"is looking promising. 

A good stand of brassicas sown under protection in January, cabbage "Hispi" being the earliest and the first 2 were cut tonight for evening meal


  Small seeds direct sown in mid April are much slower but at least the parsnips have had a full germination this year


I have had mixed success with peas - "Hurst Green Shaft " is the only variety I grow, sown at 2 week intervals from mid April onwards at 4 different stations to give a long season of picking, the last being late July/mid August. Mice as usual have been challenging and the first sowing was badly affected with about 30% devoured but mouse traps came to the rescue. The second sowing has had a full germination with no predation.

As regular readers and garden visitors will know, I am very keen on hardy annuals which I start off as plugs in early March to harden off and plant outby late May in a number of the flower borders and the wilder areas. The range grown this year has includes white, yellow, purple and orange Californian poppies, Shirley poppies, an improved form of the field poppy in a range of tissue paper pastel coloured petals, cornflowers red and blue, South African daisies dimorphotheca and ursinia, orlaya grandiflora (a beautiful low growing umbellifer), nicotianas in variety and for later  in the season,rudbeckias and cleomes which complete the annuals collection. Plugs are a more reliable way of placing them where you want them, and planting out plugs straight from the trays is much less labour intensiive.  Next month it will be safe to plant out all the tender perennials grown from cuttings last autumn. More on these next month, but I should mention that because of the mild winter and spring many of last years have successfully overwintered for the first time including Salvia confertilfolia and salvia"Hot Lips"

Rabbits have been the only downside and although they have done relatively little damage so far, choosing to eat the "light and airy" plants and leaving the luscious succulent leaves like hostas well alone; from the droppings and one sighting, they are baby rabbits and in time they will progress to the larger and more choice plants in the garden. As a precaution, all the lettuce and brassicas are covered with horticultural fleece, which is an added bonus as it helps to retain moisture, creates a microclimate where plants can grow more quicly and keeps bugs like carrot and cabbage root fly at bay.

Finally flowering shrubs have been magnificent wth a succession of viburnums followed by the native hawthorns which lose nothing in comparison to the introduced ornamental shrubs. An added bonus is that all the hydrangeas have overwintered well and the serratas and macropetalas have advanced buds which should ensure that they flower next month,  the earliest flowering that we  will have ever had.


What's looking good?

For once, I am almost lost for words! There are so many plants vying for inclusion that it is difficult to make the choice as every day new candidates emerge. The main candidates however include lovely lupins, aquilegias, poppies, hostas, iris and buds. Buds? Yes BUDS!! Am I nuts? Make your own mind up from the pics that follow. 

 Lupins are border stalwarts for early summer but are at least 2 weeks early this year. They were the star plant for me at the recent Chelsea Flower Show. These are up to 4 feet tall scented and just 2 tears old from seed 


 A more unusual lower growing but wide spreading form of lupin Silver Cloak form Plantworld Seeds in Devon.  In the picture below it is paired with artemesia ludoviciana "Valerie Finnis"





 A few of the wide range of aquilegias grown here








 Poppies like everything else are very early and this fine red orientalis is "Beauty of Livermere", 4 feet tall and one of the best reds with no hint of orange.



 This one is orientalis "Allegro" with orange folded tissue paper petals and the most marvellous dark blotched centre forming a cross marking the spot for pollen crazy insects



And finally the famed and fabulous Himalayan blue poppy, this one being Fertile Blue Group Lingholm, which is reliably perennial as long as you remove the flower buds in the first flowering year, The picure does not do the intensity of the blue colour justice and I am clearly not a sufficiently proficient photographer to capture it!



After a slow start hostas have been terrific. With over 200 varieties in the gardens they make a major statement everywhere, none better than the more shady areas around the Paddock Pond



One of the best for looking good over a long period is "Night Before Christmas", one of the more normal names given to hosta cultivars!



Astrantia "Abbey Road" the good reddish purple colour showing up to better effect at twilight



All the iris have done well so far this year but none more so than the sibiricas which in these long established clumps have never flowered better. The first pic. is of "White Swirl", and the other the lovely intense blue of "Silver Edge"





But of all the star performers none eclipses the mighty cardioicrinum giganteum grown from seed sown in 2008. It is the highlight of my horticultural life. There are 2 stands in the garden with a total of 7 plants in bud. This pic taken today shows the plant at over 5 feet tall and the cane is 7 feet. Do NOT miss next months News Item when there may be some flowers to show you



Now then -BUDS!! Just in case you think I have totally lost it here is an explanation.  I always try to get as much satisfaction from every plant  no matter how big or small. The skeletal form in winter, the early leaf shape,  and colour, the form and habit of the plant in growth, the contribution it makes to all its neighbours,  the scent of leaf and flower, the post flowering period - how long it takes to go past its best, autumn colour and the value of its seedheads. But without doubt other than the flowers themselves, the highlight is the bud stage and all the promise and pleasure that lies locked  within them. There is such an infinite variety too. If poets such as  Shakespeare, Laurie Lee and Philip Larkin to name just a few that come readily to mind on this subject, can see some beauty and wider impact in them, why can't we?


Cardiocrinum rosette.



Delphinum spike showing colour in the bud



Lilium martagon album. Most lilies form their buds early on and keep you waiting for that tantalising moment when they open. In the case of martagons they flower usually in June



Lilium martagon hybrid "Orange Marmalade" a more upright coloured bud on a plant that reaches 5 feet tall in time



Long tight spiralled buds on iris sibirica "White Swirl"



This intriguing spiralled bud in bronze and green belongs to this tender justicia carnea hybrid with bicoloured flowers



Buds of rodgersia pinnata opening to red flowers



And finally this huge bud belongs to unbellifer peucedanum verticillare and contains numerous separate flower heads to 6 feet


Wildlife and countryside

The pied flycatchers duly arrived on 1 May and started to examine the nest boxes I had erected to replace those lost in the winter gales which generations of flycatchers had used before . Sadly they decided that they were not fit for purpose even though they were recommended specifically for that breed and since then they haven't been seen again.

 Home for rent, Going cheep!!


Redstarts are in the valley but I have only had spasmodic sightings and nothing nesting in hedgerows anywhere near us. Herons are regular visitors to the Paddock Pond to feast on the tadpole populations, which does at least distract them from the resident shoals of rudd. A few days ago we had the unusual sighting of 2 greater black backed gulls flying over the gardens looking entirely out of place, but menacingly large. No gales out at sea (about 35 miles away to the north and south) It is a mystery why they were that far inland. 

We had some good sightings of a ? a wheatear, for several days last week, using the large woodpile as a vantage point to pick out its prey. As it flew out you could hear the snapping of its bill as it caught a wide range of flying insects including one mild night when we had a rise of what looked like mayfly


Finally on the subject of birds I had the rather comical sight of a tiny wren with a huge moth in its beak destined for a nest of very noisy babies deep in the hedge at the top of the garden.

Native trees in common with garden plants have been very early this year with oaks coming into full leaf by late April, Even notoriously slow trees like alders and sweet chestnut are now in good growth but ash trees of which there are plenty here are conpicuous by their gaunt largely leafless presence in the fields and hedgerows. Even at the end of May they are yet to come into full leaf. It raises serious concerns for me that they may perhaps be weakened by the early stages of the dreaded ash dieback disease. I hope I am not being too pessimistic as the ash is the third most common tree in the UK.

The bluebells have been fantastic but are now finished, and the hedge parsley is smothering the roadside verges as are magnificient stands of ox eye daisies mingling with tall meadow buttercups. It is about now that local Councils decide it is time to cut back the road verges!

Safe from council workmen these bliuebells are in the garden of friends Anne and Philip, set off beutifully by an avenue of silver birches


The lambs continue to entertain, none more so than a flock of later born lambs in the Lodge Field opposite the house. Finding ways out of the field seemed a good game for a time, 2 very young ones deciding that the road on a blind bend was a nice  warm place to take a siesta! And as to the sole thistle plant in the field no one has had the heart to cut it down as 2 lambs have adopted it as a surrogate mother having decided that it is not very nice to eat!!


Visits and visitors

Our first visitors of the year were Llinos and Eirian, a local couple who had theit wedding photographs taken in the gardens on a beautiful day. It is nice to be able to use the gardens in this way on such a joyous occasion and to raise money for the NGS at the same time.  We have also had several other visitors since then but our official opening date is 1 June so it is safe to say that we are now open and if you would like to come to see how well the garden  looks please get in touch to make the arrangements (see under Conact Details and Opening Times elsewhere on our wesbsite).



 The 1929 Rolls Royce which took the happy couple to the reception


We have managed to find the time to go garden visiting ourselves to make the most of the marvellous spring colours, which has included Picton Castle (stunning woodland gardens), Malvern RHS Spring Festival, Spetchley Park Gardens, Worcs., and Aberglasney our nearest public garden with large stands of stunning cypripedium orchids.

 Malvern Sring Festival had a rather bizarre display at the main entrance!



Even more bizarre was the sight of a Mediterranean show garden with the background of the  deeply rural Malvern Hills!. In some ways however I guess it could be mistaken for a Caribbean island.



Back to things closer to my heart a superb stand of pleiones in an incredible range of colours



A trip to a favourite nursery in Evesham was the perfect opportunity to pay homage to local asparagus at perhaps this most famous watering hole, the "Round of Gras" at Badsey where there is a whole menu dedicated to this noble vegetable (and rounds of  asparagus on the bar to purchase)



A few miles down the road at Spetchley Park superb peonies were everywhere in the gardens



 ... and azaleas and other woodlanders


And finally where this long odessy began on 3 May, Picton Castle with a winding stream bed lined with candelabra primulas


We also concluded our talks season on 27 May with a visit to The Gardeners Club, Haverfordwest to give a talk on Hostas, which doesn't get requested nearly enough. A large, enthusiastic and highly knowledgeable audience was a delight to speak to and a great way to end the season.