Winter returns with a vengance but we dodge the "snow bullet" again

Friday, March 29, 2013

The weather has dominated our gardening life this month with some very cold days and nights, persistent easterly winds, occasional heavy rain and the warmest day of the year! Amazingly again we have had no snow here. Strange to say but it has been quite enjoyable and we have done a lot of jobs. However unlike last years warm March we have not been lured into planting out too soon or to make a start on the vegetable garden even though the borders are quite dry thanks to the drying winds. The humidity has been very low with readings averaging the mid 30's% so many of the plants in growth are looking quite dessicated especially the new hydrangea growth which was well advanced because of the mild February.


 Our own Welsh "Mount Fuji"  - The Sugar Loaf near Abergavenny in east Wales



In spite of the cold the daffodils are starting to flower and one of the best is this Division 6 cyclamineus hybrid "Jet Fire" All daffodils in this division are fairly short, upright and bulk up quickly.




The coldest March since 1963 but a max of 14.4C  in the first week of the month was countered by a low of -9C, the coldest of the winter on 14th. Overall 16 nights of air frost and just 4 days above 10C. The biting easterly wind has been an ever present feature of the month.


Garden Update

In the warmth of the polytunnels seed sowing and potting on has continued, unaffected by the weather. The benches of seedlings are growing away but the lack of any warm spell or bright sunshine has held back development of seedlings. All plants in the nursery have been repotted and we have recently made a start on the large stock plants in the tunnels


The latest pic. of the seed bench showing in the foreground the grass like seedlings from the American Hemerocallis seed.


My hemerocallis seeds from the American Hemerocallis Society have germinated beautifully in just 4 weeks and the seedlings are already 4 inches tall - they are really easy from seed and because they are hybirds will make vigorous plants. The anticipation of them flowering perhaps as early as next year is very exciting.

In spite of my best efforts over the years to improve the lawns I have not met with any great success so this month I resolved to take drastic measures. Yes I know that a perfect lawn is now out of fashion and not considered enviromentally sound for a whole host of reasons, but nothing sets off the borders so well as a lovely green sward. Take it from me having opened the gardens for 14 years, the "general public" love nothing better than a well kept, weed free lawn and good on them I say!

Advised and encouraged by Robert, our friend and former greenkeeper, I have seriously scarifed the lawns much deeper than ever before,  to within a inch of their life, and recently hired a powered spiking machine to get some air into them. Followed by a top dressing and re-seeding they now look pretty tatty but my guru assures me they will look wonderful in a couple of months time. I trust his judgement but our first visit this summer is just 9 weeks away!! Just to ensure they stay that way I recently invested in a quality, vintage Webb  cylinder mower circa 1980, still cutting beautifully. 


The lawn guru Rob hard at work on the hollow tine  spiker - spot the grass!



Some pleasing border shapes take attention away from the scalped lawns



The resultant waste from the  lawns - a trolley load of dense thatch. I carted 17 loads of this from the Paddock Lawn



What's looking good?

Pretty much the same things as last month. It has been so generally cold that all the early spring flowers are still going strongly with many snowdrops still in flower with primroses and celandines - an unusual overlapping of bloom times. The mighty Hellebores (sorry to mention them again but regular readers will know that they are my only gardening weakness!!) just go on and on and on with the woodland area in particular looking splendid. There they now share the limelight with pulmonarias Blue Ensign, Lewis Palmer, Sissinghurst White and a range of countless hybrids as they cross readily from seed. And cyclamen coum now in their fourth month of flowering, some having started before Christmas - I cannot recommend them highly enough.


Pulmonaria "Lewis Palmer" a really "good doer" which has flowered in the woodland area for over 15 years




Hellebores still going strong in the woodland.




In the warmth of the large polytunnel, the first flowers on fuchsia arborescens (sometime called the lilac flowered fuchsia)


Daffodils continue to be patchy and I do fear that many of mine planted up to 20 years ago are going backwards and need to be replenished. They are certainly very late this year. My dear farmer neighbour Meirion who sadly passed away last autumn used to say that daffodil season always brought "back and forward " weather and that proper spring would not come until we see the back of these "yellow buggers!" Not what you expect form a proud Welsh speaker but his sentiments are nonetheless true in my experience.

A final mention must be made of plants in the nursery. By overwintering all my plants under cover of frames, tunnels and greenhouses and aided by a generally milder winter (this month excepted) we have had almost no losses, the secret being keeping the pots on the dry side. Plants in pots can be very tempremental during the winter months especially if after being soaked they are then subjected to cold causing the pots to freeze solid. Even plants that are totally hardy in the ground, like hardy geraniums, perennial digitalis, poppies, hollyhocks and occasionally lupins, in pots can fall prey to extreme temperature changes.


Wildlife and Countryside

Just when I was wondering what I could report on this month (apart from lambs everywhere) along came 2 bird related incidents within a few minutes of each other. Working on the lawns, I heard a shrill whistling over the Paddock Pond and looked up to see 2 kingfishers having a stand off not far away from me. Totally oblivious they kept this up for about 30 seconds before flying off, one still chasing the other. I expect given the time of year there was a young lady nearby to be impressed by their show of force! I have only ever seen solitary kingfishers before.

They will be glad they made off because a goshawk, one of the most agressive birds of prey came into view, circling over the valley and it was interesting to observe the panic of birds great and small trying to get to cover as quickly as possible, just like when the gunslinger came into town in an old fashioned Western movies. On this occasion happily no -one got the bullet!  

My"pet" robin ( of internet fame - his words not mine!) has been around most days continuing to develop his love of cheese. He now comes into the polytunnel, perches on a watering can or other vantage point, and sings in a very agressive manner until I throw him some cheese. He knows where I keep it in a plastic bag and if I don't give hime some he just goes and helps himself!!! Sadly these events are beyond the speed of me or camera to capture

Rabbits continue to be much in evidence all over the gardens and in spite of late evening and early morning patrols I have failed to see any. It does not bode well with the main spring planting only weeks away and I have no choice but to get the experts in as my attempts to trap them in humane traps have been mostly unsuccessful.

Oh and I nearly forgot! The frogs kept us waiting this year but in the brief warm interlude in early March with a little rain they came back to the Paddock Pond in their hundreds where most of them will have started their lives. I hope the cold weather and frequent ice on the pond will not have damaged all the spawn;we will soon know.



The only visits this month have been to garden clubs for talks and two Gardeners Question Time which are great fun and learning opportunites not only for members of the audience but also for panel members. For example I learned that wood ash, a very good source of potash if used fresh, can contain up to 60% lime, which needs to be appreciated especially in areas like the Cotswolds which already have a high lime content in the soil. I also learned in regard to tomatoes that you should not plant them into their final positions until the first flowers are showing colour. In this way the first truss will be earlier and much lower on the plant than if you plant them out before the flowers form. Simple things perhaps but invaluable advice. It's the little things in gardening that can make a difference.

I also gave a talk to Sketty Gardening Club in Swansea which was attended by over 80 members, the largest group I have ever spoken to. It was great to have such a large and participative audience and a wide range of questions was asked - I do love it when there is a 2 way dialogue and active member participation. 

In view of the paucity of pics for this month's news we recently took a trip to the Cotswolds to visit our friends Tony and Sylvia who have a nursery specialising in a wide range of woodland and other shade plants many of which flower at this time of year. Here are a few pics of some of the treasures currently in bloom, all of them under heated protection I hasten to add..


The striking inflorescense of a form of amorphophallus konjac, the flowers coming before the architectural and imposing leaves. The flowers have a few days when they are very smelly to attract polinating insects. A relative of the "Titan Arum" arguably the largest flowering plant in the world. These spikes are a mere 3-4 feet long.



This lovely trillium could be t. sessile but Tony is not sure and it may be a hybrid



And finally this fabulous and rather unusual hellebore with lovely symmetry to the markings



For more details of Tony and Sylvia's nursery and the Plant Fairs they will be attending this year go to