A sensational October

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


 Highlight of the month is, as you would expect, autumn colour - full in your face  colour all over the gardens

Always a strong contender for the title of most colourful shrub is euonymus alatus. It often keeps this colour until December, frosts and gales permitting



What an unforgettable month. All the frustrations of a disappointing summer blown away in an extravagansa of colour. Fine weather to be outdoors and carry out essential autunmn jobs and complete them . All the winter firewood sawn up and stacked away, a nice change from 9 months of non stop gardening. 



And talking of outrageous colour what do you think of this close up of a well known, tall border perennial. Any ideas what it is? Answer at the end




Scarcely any rain in first 3 weeks of the month when West Wales was in the headlines for having the lowest recorded rainfall in the UK, Milford Haven recording just 1 mm of rain in the period. Sunny days and cold nights was the pattern. So close to an air frost on numerous occasions but with a nightime regime of covering with fleece most tender plants especially those in active growth, there was no damage anywhere. Worth all the effort to prolong the last days of the growing season. Early outlook for November indicates continuing warmer weather with no frosts - we are bound to pay later but enjoy it while we can as it certainly makes the winter seem shorter. Lowest temperature 0C on 25th with 13 other days below 5C. Warmest 18C on 5th and 6th and 16 other days above 15C


Garden Update

Vegetables continued to crop well throughout the month and there were more ready for harvest than at any time this year. By luck, planting for succession and the choice of suitable cultivars we had sweetcorn and runner beans throughout the month. Sweetcorn continues with 25 plants of maturing cobs still to come from a sowing made on 26 June, variety "Swift". I am always quite sad however when the runner beans come to an end as they are a reliable staple for the kitchen being available every day since late July and a good accompaniement to any meal. We never freeze them so we and our neighbours  enjoy them fresh.

Looking rather tired now but still tender and tasty from a July sowing. Variety "White Lady"


Their winter eqiuivalent is the Brussels sprout which should provide regular pickings into the New Year and already tasting good even withorut a frost. There are a whole range of other brassicas to enjoy particularly some fine cauliflowers and the cut and come again benefits of dwarf kale, the new super food and ready in just a minute from steaming.

I continue to mow the lawns about twice a week partly as the grass is continuing to grow well, having been fed with a high potash/phosphate winter fertiliser, with adden iron and magnesium which makes them green up well. Another feed weather permitting towards the end of the year, should see the lawns through to next Spring




As you may know, contrary to normal recommended practice I cut back very little in the flower borders until February, giving more time to dedicate to other essential autumn tasks, to provide food and shelter for wildlife, enhanced protection for plants in a cold winter and continuing interest in the borders when hoar frosts alight on the faded seedheads. 

Lovely hues enriched by late afternoon sunshine on miscanthus seedheads


I always however use the opportunity while most plants are still in active growth to mark with a cane and label, plants for division, replacement or a fundamental re appraisal of the impact and structure of the borders.

Seed gathering from the gardens is regular feature in late summer and autumn, for my own use, to donate to The Hardy Plant Society for the annual Seed Exchange Scheme (a major benefit of Membership) and for raffle prizes to the Clubs and Societies I talk to during the winter and spring. I cannot recommend too highly joining the HPS a highly regarded organisation within  horticulture and for more information go to www.hardy-plant.org.uk



Everything is now ready for the winter in the nursery with most plants that need protection put away under cover of frames and polytunnels, the fires tested, and new horti fleece purcahsed which is necessary on very cold nights to augment protection in covered areas.


What's looking good?



Asters were tremendous, later than usual,  but when they did come, they made up for lost time with a vengance. The heavy rain in the last week has slowed them down but a few of the 60 plus we have here continue to thrive, especially the lateriflorus group, a few others like a.turbinellus, a. pyrenacia laetitia and can you believe it, a.frikartii "Monch" which has flowered non-stop since early July. If you grow only one aster, this is the one I would recommend. Just a note on nomenclature. There has been a name change for some of the American asters like New England (nova angliaea) and New York  (nova belgii) which now take on the name of symphyotrichum!. Probably best for us amateurs like me to continue to call this group "Michaelmas Daisies" which they have been called for generations

Another favourite aster of mine is nova belgii type  "Marie Ballard" as near to blue as I have found in the genus with long lasting double flowers that don't fully open to reveal their yellow stamens until very late on



Continuing my "blue heaven" theme, Salvias have revelled  in the bright sunshine, the lack of rain and the shortening day length which is natural to those coming from central America. They have gone into overdrive!! I continue to take cuttings and when the frosts do come will dig up some of the biggest and best specimens to overwinter and take more cuttings next Spring, after first cutting them back hard.

5' tall is salvia patens "Guanajuato"



Another 5 footer is S. "Phyllis Fancy" set against the silver foliage of an unknown artemesia



And seen everywhere it seems these days is s. "Amistad" said to be hardy once established in well drained soil


Tree and shrub colour has never been better as they continue to mature and the perfect weather conditions of sunny mild days and cold niights work their magic to ensure the best autumn colour. I still wish that when starting the gardens many years ago I had planted more trees and shrubs, but it is too late now. Those we do have were well chosen I think and give us great pleasure.

Of all the 80+ hydrangeas we have here the most intriguing is h. "Preziosa" which changes flower and leaf colour throughout the growing season coming to its peak in October when the flowers are a rich purple red and the leaves have become almost black



This choice shrub/small tree is cercis canadensis "Forest Pansy" and my favourite red dahlia "Summer Night" in the Red Border, a misty late afternoon adding to the atmosphere of the scene



Opposite the Red Border are the contrasting tones of the Blue and Yellow border



A native wild cherry on the garden boundary


There are many other stars as showcased in the following pics. It all goes to show how much interest you can have in the garden at this time of year if you plan carefully.


Aconitum carmichaelii and helianthus "Lemon Queen"  is always a winning combination in the "Picket Border" at the front of the Lodge with a misty pink symphiotrichum "Star of Chesters" pulling the two together.



In one of the polytunnels is a large late flower on hosta plantaginea, a wild form with scented flowers to 2" long. More reliably flowering under cover as it needs more warmth than most to bring it into flower



A small selection of some of the later dahlias



Making quite a statement is the late flowering kniphofia "Rooperi" at 6' tall with the lovely seedheads of bupleurum fruticosum in the foreground



Colchicum "Album" a dainty long flowering form in part shade with geranium wallichianum providing some gentle natural support



The last picking of sweet peas on 23 October, the latest we have ever had them



More Blue! Tremendous flowering of Clematis  viticella "Blue Belle"



Tender nerines stay in the tunnels year round and this year nerine sarniensis has flowered better than ever



And a recent addition to my collection of impatiens is the tender i, auricoma taking me to a total of 15 hardy and tender forms



Wildlfe and countryside

Tree colour on our native trees has been sensational highlighted by the many sunny days we have enjoyed. 

Totally natural native oak woodland just beginning to colour up



The view to the north east of the Lodge with the setting sun reflected on the larch. More news next month about the larch plantations hereabouts and the dreaded phytophthora disease



That sunshine has brought out a few butterflies but they had a poor year here. It was however a surprise to see dragonflies on the wing the last siighting being on the 31st

An incredibly lucky picture (this time I did have my camera!!) - a large dragonfly resting on a seed head of clematis tangutica "Lambton Park" - the first punk dragonfly ever recorded!!



And on 31st of the month a small red dragonfly sunning itself on a stone


An unusual visitor to the large polytunnel was a black mink in broad daylight, oblivious to my presence just a few feet away (without camera of course!). Some years agao they were very common causing havoc to fish stocks in the ponds and predating almost any other wildlife they could sink-their teeth and sharp claws into. Trapping them brought me up close and personal with them and gradually their numbers reduced. It is also said that if otter numbers increase, as they have done here over the last 10 years or so, the mink give way to the larger predator.

Another predator that made an appearnce this month was a sparrowhawk zipping over the hedgerows to the consternation of many smaller birds. Jays too have made their annual pilgrimage to the garden to feast on the continuing good crop of sweetcorn; they have also in the past devastated pea crops.

The wrecked shell of a cob after the jays had visited



Hedgehogs have  also been regularly sighted in and around the gardens, very welcome visitors given how their numbers have plumetted.



Whilst collecting logs for splitting I turned up numerous frogs such as this fine fellow well camoflaged in the leaves



And then a toad almost black against its background



Cobwebs are more prominent at this time of year highlighted by the heavy morning dews. Usually they are delicate and lacy but on this morning in the hedgerows they looked more like a substantial fabric of great pesence, complexity and beauty




Although the garden is usually closed in October we hosted a visit from representatives of  several gardening clubs in Pembrokeshire to discuss their collective booking for next July. The gardens looked exceptionally good creating a favourable impression. We already have a number of bookings next July so if you wou are intending to visit us in 2016 please get in touch soon to ensure you get your preferred date.


The next 5 pics are all of Hergest Croft on a lovely autumn day. Make a note in your diary to go next year and visit the website at www.hergest.co.uk






DSCN1442On the


 Large drifts of this beautiful colchicum can be found in grassy areas near the arboretum but it cannot be named with certainty as no records exist. It is believed to have been planted in the early part of the last century.





On the road we gave 3 talks to clubs in Penllergaer Swansea, The Hardy Plant Society in Coychurch  and our local club in Llangadog. There was an exceptional attendance at each meeting which iis inspiriring for the speaker. Thank you all very much

The talk about to begin at the HPS



Good gardening friends at Llangadog Gardening Club's meeting and  at the back the fabulous buffet they always serve at the end. They don't come for my talk - it's the food that does it!!



And finally the answer to the question I posed at the beginning of this article. The pink flower is from an anemone centred hollyhock. a gift from Jan. a gardening friend from Kidwelly. Thanks Jan!!