A dismal August brings a soggy end to a dismal summer.

Monday, August 31, 2015

It has been difficult at times to put a positive spin on all the challenges gardeners in this part of the world have had to face in this so called summer.  When like us you also open your garden for the NGS it adds to the pressure to keep it looking good for all our  visitors. By nature I am an enthusiastic and optimistic person but reviewing my recent  monthly website News it is hard to believe it!! So hopefully you will find this News a little more positive and uplifting. 

Late summer borders in the Paddocck Garden


The month started on a massive  high with our trip to Middle England and the 3 Manors (for more details go to our News item dated 12 August). During the month there were several meteorological highlights including the "Blue Moon" and an incredible sunset on one of the days when a meteor shower was expected. Continuing the Blue Moon" theme we had blue balloons at the end of the month when a wedding party used the gardens for their photos.

A not so "blue moon" on a cloudy night



At least the ballons were blue -ish!!





And the best sunset I have seen for a long time





The cooler conditions and lack of sunshine extended the flowering period of many plants so that August was still a very colourful month even though the blooms of rain sensitive plants like roses and dahlias were quickly damaged in some of the heavy downpours. Lots of dead heading to do on these and on the daylilies many of which at the end of the month were still flowering long after they usually finish.

One of the latest of the seed grown hemerocallis to come into flower and one of the best


So cheer up, read on and just to make you feel better the forecasters are saying that Sepetember is going to be better!!!



However cheerful I try to be the weather was just lousy throughout the month with the exception of a few plleasnt days. No long period of setlled weather as we had in the two most recent Augusts. Cold by day and night, breezy, with torrential rain in the last week, which brought up the rivers and streams to the highest levels seen this year.

The stream garden at our friend's Robert and Barry, that I helped to design and plant up. For the first time after some very heavy rain it was running freely.


 Only 2 days in the whole month  above 21C, max 24C on the day of the wedding 22 August

8 nights below 10c, min 5C 18 August

Barometer levels below 30" for most of the month


Garden Update

Lawns revelled in the cool moist weather looking lush green all month after I fed them. I lost count of the number of times I was asked to give give a "Masterclass" on lawn maintenance throughout the seasons for many of our visitors. All  shade loving plants have thrived and in the main borders, without bright light, colours became more intense. Roses coped reasonably , well none finer than the French shrub roses which have such clean black spot free leaves and relatively rain resistant flowers, Our visitors favourite rose especially for its fine, old fashioned perfume was La  Rose du Molinard from breeder Delbard. Very vigorous too at 6 feet tall.

A really mixed bag of vegetables. Those like courgettes, French and runner beans,  sweetcorn,  sweet potato, tomatoes even in the tunnels, struggled badly or were at least 2 week behind the normal cropping dates. Carrot fly damage was less in evidence but the crop was still affected so that I am not expecting any to be in a good enough condition to store for winter. Celery and celeriac affected by virus and leaf miner. 

 The veg. garden after the potato harvest



A few carrots managed to avoid the carrot fly and one of the best and a new one to me was Purple Haze Amazing bicolour which has a great taste.



 Considering a late planting and early harvest I was pleased with the overall quaility and size of the crop. As ever the best all round was desiree, and the salad types which store well and taste new for many months. Charlotte and old favourite but eclipsed in size by Venezia, a newer variety.



A sight I thought I would never see this year, a row of Hurst peas. Three reasonable rows to harvest. Nothing beats the taste of a pea straight from the vine.


I continue to sow salad leaves as there is still time to prioduce a harvest before the worst ot the weather arrives,  and after our taste experience at Le Manoir au Quat Saisons, I have sown a wider range of radish which was widely used in the restaurant.

This year only small onions and shallots which were planted out late, but leeks (5 rows of them)  are looking good and should fill any gaps lin supply from the onions.

Sweet peas are still flowering well  - enough from 12 wigwams to provide daily bunches for the house and to give away (always a most acceptable gift, especially when paired up with ethereal gypsophylla - weren't they just made for each other?) Sowing them 3 seeds to 9cm pot in January and planting out the entire pot, one to each cane, in late May has been a great success this year.


Asters in wide variety looking very promising with plenty of buds already and no sign of mildew on the nova belgii types. Staking is essential to show off these autumn beauties at their best as they flop badly when in full flower. The earlier form aster frikartii "Monch" has been in flower since late July.

Tender salvias many  from Central America do not like the cold and lack of sunshine so are struggling but there is still time if September is kind as they thrive on shorter daylight hours. One genus from Central America that has done particularly well is the brugmansias, overwintered in huge pots big enought to to just about carry and stood outside for the summer. Copious watering and feeding is the key to successful flowering and if they can get it,  some warmth too! Such rays of sunshine in the gloom and a wonderful scent at nightfall rivalling the regale lilies they are paired with.



What's looking good?

I can't believe how well the borders are looking nor for how long plants are staying in good condition. There is almost too much choice making the final decision difficult but pictures are the best way to do justice to some of the best.

The Picket Fence  border bathed by the soft pink light of that magical metor shower sunset



 Flower heads on eryngium planum



And  serious competition from dahlia "Karma Choc" (the dark one) and "Wittemans Best"



And another pic. of the red border whcih really does look good this year 



Late clematis can always be relied upon for a good show and the scented form c. triternata rubromarginata is a treasure



After all the hot colours  elsewhere its is nice to turn to the restful calm of this part of the Paddock Garden shade border



Lilium speciosum "Black Beauty" a long established and long flowering form to 7 feet



My favourite corner of the House Garden border and lovely seat to enjoy it!



The Greenhouse Border  with some good pokers (kniphofias) and a mixed colour pallette



One of the best pokers is "Green jade"


There is however one top contender that  deserves a detailed appreciation. Many gardeners have favourite plants within a family or genus and start collecting them. Over a period of time these collections can grow and the urge to add more becomes even greater as new plants become evailable. Current national favourites include heucheras, dahlias, meadow plants especially umbellifers, plants that attract wildlife and of course roses and lilies never go out of fashion. 

In my case my passion is  for almost anything!! The buttercup family, hostas, hellebores, hardy geraniums, and lilies are long time favourites but over the last 10 years or so another has joined the club. Ladies and gentlemen I give you hydrangeas!! Cue big drum roll.

From slow beginnings I was staggered recently when doing a count of them that we now have over 80 in the gardens. Why do I like them so much? The variety, ease of cultivation, compatibility with our location and ease of intergration into our planting schemes. The only challenge we face is with late spring frost damaging the emerging flowerbuds on some forms.


The hydrangea bank near the conservatory is packed with them in wide variety some of which like this macropetylla, I cannot name. Nice plant with black stems



Most common forms are readily available, but even unusual or rare hydrangeas are relatively easy to purchase thanks to specialist nurseries such as Pan global Plants or via Internet search engines, As most gardeners will know they are also easy to propagate from soft ot hardwood cuttings taken at appropriate times of the year. Thay have a long season of interest from June until October with changing flower colours, strong structure, and many of them have great autumn leaf colour too until the first frosts. One of the best things here with a soil PH of 6 - 6.5 is that all hydrangeas that have the capacity in those soil conditions to be so, are blue, and for me that is much nicer than the washed out pinks you often see in gardens with alkaline soil.

The main sections available are Macrophyllas (the large mop headed forms), the more dainty Serratas, well suited to smaller gardens . Both sections also include delightful lacecap forms and come in a range of colours. Paniculatas have less colour than the others,  starting white or lime green and graduallly fading  cream or in some cases pink or red. A section of larger growing forms includes the Aspera group some of which can reach up to 20 feet tall and as wide,  and climbing hydrangeas like pteolaris and seemanii that can clothe an entire building or tree in time. A less common section is the Involucratas which have a different flower bud than all the others, and also species forms of hydrangeas like Heterophyllas with less showy or colourful flowers than the others.

One the longest established is macrophylla  "Generale Viscomtesse de Vibraye" from Portmeirion in North Wales where there are the bluest hydrangeas I have ever seen.



A fine macrophylla lacecap is "Tokyou Delight" The fertle florets (the circle of petals in the middle) are blue for us in acid soil: they will be pink in alkaline



An unclassified form is h. "Preziosa" which assumes different flower colour depending on soil and location. Even the summer leaves can turn almost black in full sun in a hot summer. Two plants in different situations





A rightly popular cultivar is h. arborescens "Annabelle" Long season of flowering and the ability to flower on new wood so unaffected by late  frosts



A range of cultivars and a lovely red lililum "Night Flyer" in part shade



The paniculatas are like Arborescens in that they can flower on new wood so if you cut them back by a half in the spring you will get much bigger flowers. Thie one  in this pic is "Limelight"



H. paniculata "Kyushu" a lacecap form



Tha amazing form of Paniculata "Vanile Fraise" which turns from white to deep pink over a long period



One of the bigger forms is h. apera  "Macrophylla" with dinner plate sized blooms. Many fine cultivars in this group to choose from



The unusual flowerbuds on a rarer form belong to h.involucrata x kawakami. UNlike all other hydrageas the flowers emerge from a tightly folded bud



Wildlife and countryside

Best news is the fairly regular sightings of  hedgehogs in the garden. But sadly given how rare they are now, finding a dead one, run over outside the Lodge recently. was not a pleasant experience.

Spot the hedgehog in the undergrowth!


Very, very few butterflies  (only the occasional Painted Lady and Peacock sighted in the last few weeks and no dragonflies, Even cabbage White buttrfies are in short supply (quite pleased about that really with a garden full of brassicas!!) Wasps are now much in evidence,  quite unlike last year when we scarcely saw any.

A honey bee searches for pollen on a flower of geranium "Rozanne". There were thousands of bees on the many flowers of a large plant. Some years ago there was another almost identical geranium which was called "Jolly Bee" I never knew why it had this name until I saw this! Some  years ago however, the owners of the Rozanne name took the other owners of Jolly Bee  took to court to establish the correct name. "Rozanne"  won and the Jolly Bee name cannot now be used, Pity!


Kingfishers are noisily active their high pitched whistling calls being heard most days, but even with diligent observation no chance to photograph any so far, Their presence has made the pond fish keep to deeper water under cover of the mass of waterlily  leaves. Owls continue to be more vocal as always at this time of year. Swallows are flying much lower in their pursuiit of flies, driven down by the veary heavy damp atmosphere.

One morning we saw what looked for all the world like diamond necklaces strewn all over the heathers on a stone wall near the conservatory. It was an amazing sight after one especially cold night




Generally very quiet in the countryside and the birds have stopped singing for the time being. Hedgcutting (or trashing as it is called locally) will commence in September as dictated by law to prevent disturbance of any late nesting birds. Soon it will be time for the rams to be placed with the ewes  when a major yearly local farming cycle begins again

Having looked good for so long the road verges were cut back last weeek which is the right time to do it (insteaad of May) giving us all the chance to enjoy the full bounty of wild flowers and now that evrything will have self seeded it will be interesting to see next year how good the flowering period is next year..

But you can always rely on Himalayan balsam to put on a show in August especially in moist soil even in deep shade



 Lovely flowers however despised they may be



Something I was pleased to see in Buckingahmshire was this fine stand of bulrushes




August  with 80 visitors, was the busiest of the 3 months that we opened for the National Gardens Scheme this year. Overall we had 187 visitors mostly in small groups and just one coach party. The tour company from Holland who have been regular visitors over the years were not able to visit this year Nevertheless with admissiom monies, teas and plant sales, not to mention several very generous donations, we were able to raise in the region of £1,300 for the NGS which in a very poor summer was quite an achievement. Amazingly we only had rain on just one day of the visits! Thanks to everyone who came this year to support us, for the many generous compliments and all the cards and e-nmails that followed many of your visits. It means a great deal to us especially in such a difficukt year. It is good to know how much our efforts are appreciated.

Our last group visit was of old friends from our local Llangadog Gardening Club



And on our last day we were delighted to welcome  our newest friends (from right to left -Jack, Kat, Michelle and Ben and their respective babies) all on their first visit to Wales. What a great way to bring to a close our 2015 opening for the NGS



Aside from garden visitors, there were two other revenue streams - one on a cold day in February when a group of ladies from Brecon spent 5 hours in my large polytunnel learning the techniques of plant propagation which was very well received. The other just last week was the 4th time that we have hosted a wedding party in the gardens to have photos taken. It is great to be able to use the gardens in this way and with our local Community Hall and Visitor Centre now catering for weddings hopefully more of them will come our way for their photos.


The gardens are now closed for the year but in 2016 we are opening again for the NGS  from June to August - and do you know what? - we already have 2 bookings and several expressions of interest!! Our attention now turns to getting out and about more and to enjoying the garden in what we hope will be a golden autumn. Ever the optimist.

And two pics to remind us all that aurumn isn't far away.

Amelanchier lamarckii is always the first tree in the gardens to show autumn colour



A lovely stand of cyclamen hederifolium also comveys an autumn feeling to me



Happy gardening!