A supersoft September ushers in the perfect start to Autumn

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Coming in after a final tour of  the gardens tonight at the ridiculous time of 9.50 pm in shirt sleeves on  a balmy night with the remains of the Harvest Moon overhead, shrouded in flying insects attracted by my headlight (compulsory attire now it is dark by 7.30pm) I was struggling for a Headline for September News. Then it struck me - it was all around. The masses of flowers, the lush green, the flying insects, hundreds of worms on the lawns, the owls hooting from a nearby chestnut tree - all brought about by a truly special September.

Warm sunny spells punctuated by just the right sort of soft rain, often at night, little wind apart from one night when capricious gusts from the south west blew the top out of a badly sited catalpa (Indian Bean tree) which has been struggling for years, but no other damage elsewhere so I will live with it. No sign of any early frosts yet so no manic rushing around with horticultural fleece in the dark  trying to cover everything remotely tender just to hang on to things for just a bit longer. If it were possible to design a perfect month this would be it. 

Just to give you a flavour of what it looks like these pics will say it better than I can. Sorry they cannot convey the scents, the atmosphere and special light, but I think you will get the general idea and I hope the month has been as good for you as it has for us.









A river of aster frikartii "Monch" and a waterfall of clematis viticella "Huldine" 



This unusual form of evening primrose oenothera versicolour  "Sunset Boulevard"  whose flowers change colour as they age, in form looking like an 18" crown imperial fritillaria



Begonia grandis ssp. evansii, a hardy begonia with drifts of cyclamen hederifolia



Since being voted "Plant of the Century" at the centenary Chelsea Flower Show in May, geranium "Rozanne" has won many plaudits and sold like hot cakes. Although undoubted a fine, long flowering form, there are others which flower from June until the frosts, and these below which have similar colours to "Rozanne"belong to G. wallichianum "Buxtons Blue"  with beautiful definition in the petals. Look out too for a form called "Chris", slightly smaller flowers but even sharper petal definition.




Warmth was the predominant weather feature during the month with 10 days above 20C (max 23C on 4th of the month). Most nights relatively mild with a min of 7C. Enough rain, much of it overnight, drying up by morning - how many times do we wish for this?

For me the weather feature of the month was the magnificient skies we experienced, surely the best free show on earth if you see what I mean! Late afternoon and evening was the best time the setting sun suffusing the whole sky with ever changing shades of pink. Breathtaking!

Kniphofia uvaria var. nobilis is impressive enough at over 6' tall but even more so when set against such a backdround.



Garden update

Grass is growing like mad as the result of the warmth and timely rain, and the not inconsiderable addition of 16 - 16 -16 fertiliser, twice the strength of normal growmore! Handle with care!! It certainly greened the lawns up quickly and with the high concentration of nitrogen stopped the red thread disease in its tracks. On the basis that you don't need a lot of it I shall certainly be using it again next year. From now on any feed will be low nitrogen and higher phosphate to boost root growth and strengthen the grass for the rigours of winter. The final lawn treatment of the year was a recent full scarifying and top dressing with sharp sand and grass seed. Thanks to my friend and lawns guru Rob I think I may have cracked the secrets of a fine lawn after over 40 years of gardening. If you would love a nice lawn and like me you have struggled for years it is essential that you find your own guru now!




Vegetables have continued to be superb in a wide variety with over 20 kinds available for harvest. Very little in the way of pests and diseases and there have been no instances of clubroot in the brassicas that has plagued me for the last few years. Part of this I am sure is due to very heavy limimg of the plot last autumn, and especially an application of calcifeid seaweed prior to planting out in the Spring. This is supposed to stimulate beneficial soil microbes at the roots and also degrades the pathogens in the clubroot. All my vegetables have had a dose of calcified seaweed and root crops especially carrots and beetroot are the best we have had for many years. This was discussed at Medwyn Williams' Masterclass Weekend I attended last November  so it shows that I did listen to all the good advice I had from the champion growers who were there and very grateful I am too. The joy of gardening is that there is always something new to learn. It is a very different situation from last year when I am ashamed to say that I was forced to buy in vegatables - but don't tell anyone!. The only downside has been that all the runner beans cropped at the same time in spite of staggered sowings and are now coming to an end - if this is all I had to worry about each year I would gladly accept it. And we do have some late purple podded climbing French beans to enjoy - from an Italian seed supplier!

I was intending to show a pic. of a selection of my veggies but when I saw this magnificient basket at Malvern Autumn Show I didn't feel my artistic style could compete with this!



Many flowering plants are going on and on and some early flowering ones like campanulas and hardy geraniums are having a good second flush after being cut back in July. Clematis have been a bit of a disappointment, plenty of green growth but not many flowers. Most of the forms we grow are later flowering types like viticellas and texensis hybrids which only in the last 2 weeks have started to bloom. a month later than usual. Those that have done well are C. rehderiana, much loved by bees, C. tangutica "Lambton Park", and C, triternata x rubromarginata small flowers but masses of them and a great scent coming for one of its parents c.flammula.

C. tangutica "Lambton Park"



The fine weather has made it easy to dry off a good crop of shallots and onions and ripened seed on all manner of plants for storing to sow next year, to share with friends and offer to the Hardy Plant Society as part of their seed exchange programme. There also many dried berlotti beans for soups and stews and if I get round to it this year they make the best baked beans in the world - sorry Heinz!

Like all other areas of the garden the weeds too have enjoyed the good growing weather and in spite of the close packed planting in the borders a few determined ones always manage to sneak in - an embarassing sow thistle 5 feet tall in the Red Border only noticed when showing a group of visitors around and the ubiquitous bitter cress the bane of my life! Even the Paddock Pond doesn't escape, the Canadian Pond weed has again  gone crazy choking areas of the pond so that too has to be cleared - see August News I cleared it just a month ago and it is back worse than ever!!. A nice job on a warm day at eye level with the fish and some seriously scary dragonflies.

 Yours truly up to my neck in Canadian pondweed!



What's looking good?

Don't expect me to include everything because there is just too much but already  there is good leaf  colour on some of the trees and shrubs, earlier than for some years. The real stars however can be simply categorised as "buttercups and daisies" but many of them not quite as you would expect them. The pictures below give some idea of the staggering range we have in flower at the moment. I just wish the aster nova belgii would get a move on - they have taken ages this month to colour up and are still to reach their best but other members of the genus have stolen the show. No mildew on any of the more prone forms of aster this year - what a joy!!

Daisy family member rudbeckia "Berlin" which is relatively new in cultivation and supposedly hardy.



Not such an obvious daisy but it is, achillea "Cloth of Gold" a rather old fashioned traditional border stalwart which has been in perfect condition since June and none of the flower heads show any signs of  ageing.



 Actaea simplex "Pink Spike" lovely bottle brush flowers and intoxicating scent. You would never guess it but it is a buttercup family member


  Another actaea the name of which is confused Commonly know as a.rubra alba the 2013 Plant Finder lists it as a.pachypoda. Who cares?!! Lovely dolls eye berries.


Tender perennials in the salvia family have responded to the shortening days and lower light levels and are now putting on quite a show, and some like salvia involucrata "Bethellii" have proved to be reliably hardy over many winters in spite of what the books may tell you. My friend Tony always says that it is just as well that plants can't read!!



A much loved salvia x jamensis "Hot Lips" with dark blue s. corrugata in the background


There is a great late show on the brugmansias in both the tunnels and pots around the gardens in shades of white, yellow, pink and flowering for the first time a double pink the name of which is unclear.



Reach for the sunglasses; lobelia x speciosa "Ruby Slippers" 4 feet tall and a very valuable perennial for late summer borders. Try also "Hadspen Purple"


The hydrangea paniculata flowers are now entering the red/pink phase and still making quite a statement, with a few new white flowers still opening. Great value plants especially if your hydrangea macrophyllas and serratas get frosted every spring so do not flower.

Finally roscoeas (members of the ginger family) in a variety of forms have bridged the gap betweeen late summer and early autumn. The most desirable of these is R. purpurea "Red Gurkha" the seed of which can produce many hybrids with flowers from deep purple to lavender with bronze stems and bronze streaked leaves perhaps coming from a form called "Peacock" All are very choice, long flowering and quite expensive unless like me you have a very special and generous nurseryman friend like Tony. 



Tony at Malvern Autumn Show with his little helpers Sylvia  and Moira



Wildlife and countryside

Butterflies, moths, bees, and and huge range of insects continue to be attracted by all the flowers in the garden but some of the poor butterflies are looking rather dishevelled; these will probably  not make it through the winter. Tortoiseshells are the most common with a few Meadow Browns now putting in an appearance. At Iford Manor earlier this month (see Visits below) we saw an unusual moth basking on one of the many stone walls. It was later identified for me by Julian from Gelli Uchaf, the "Moth Man", as a Red Underwing, rarer in Wales than in parts of England


It was good to see my first mistle thrush for many years in the gardens recently, feasting on the ample crop of honeysuckle berries. I hope it stays around to give us some of its lovely music.

Herons and kingfishers are regularly seen in the vicinity of the Paddock Pond but the scary dragonflies just frighten them away (and  don't think I am joking!!) When clearing out the pond recently it was good to see so many larval forms of dragonfly which will secure for the future, the good populations we already have.

There is a lot of activity on local farms with a second crop of silage, probably better quality than than in July when the drought took is toll on the grass. There are always lots of birds in and over the fields once they have been cut and this morning we were treated to the sight of 9 Red Kites over The Lodge, the most we have ever seen at one time since we have lived here.

Fields need to be cared for just like lawns. Usually this means spreading farmyard manure or high strength nitrogen rich fertilisers, but also sometimes in an acid soil area like ours, lime. It is quite an operation and a very messy one!


Looks like autumn mists rolling into the valley but in fact is the lime dust blotting out the sun!


Funghi update- last month it was Puff Balls and this month it is well - more Puff Balls but lots of other varieties of funghi too. If I wasn't such a whimp I would get the mushroom book out and start learning to enjoy them even if I might be dead the next day! One superb form of edible mushroom is the Parasol Mushroom now springing up in shady situations but as always extreme care is needed to ensure it is identified it correctly. Never take a chance and don't rely on these notes as evidence of positive identification. 




Visits and visitors

Our opening season has now come to an end and it has given us the chance to get started on essential autumn tasks and repair/maintenance work. When there are just the 2 of us with no other help, it is hard to keep the garden up to scratch over a 4 month period with dead heading every day, lawn mowing at least 4 times a week and lawn edging once every 10 days or so in addition to all the other everyday chores. Weeding also is a major task as is managing the nursery. Weather too makes an immense impact on the condition of the gardens. We are sorry that occasionally we have not been able to accommodate some potential visitors but hopefully there is always next year when we shall be opening for the 15th time for The National Gardens Scheme from June until September. Early bookings would be much appreciated.

Thanks to everyone at home and abroad for visiting us this year and for giving us the confidence and energy to continue opening our beloved gardens. Thanks too to Myddfai Hall and Visitor Centre for supplying teas to several of our Groups.

We have  found the time to squeeze in some garden and nursery visits this month to Iford Manor, Derry Watkins "Special Plants" nursery near Bath (an absolute must for the plantaholic), Llanover House and Rare Plant Fair near Abergavenny and the end of season Malvern Autumn Show.

Iford Manor parts of which date back to the Middle Ages 



and an atmospheric corner of the gardens based on classic Roman lines



A traditional fairground one of the many attractions at Malvern set against the background ot the beautiful Malvern Hills. Almost unchanged since Edward Elgar live near here.


A visit of a different kind, but fitting in the digital age, is in the course of preparation. We are off to America in November! We have been invited to be featured as Garden of the Week in the Daylily Diary, a regular online publication managed by Charlotte Chamitoff a member of the American Hemerocallis Society which has had over 1.5 million hits and has about 3000 hits for each Garden of the Week feature. We have already supplied Charlotte with a protfoilio of pictures and will supply a text item during the early part of October. I will keep you informed of the progress and provide a link to the website when the article is published. 

In the meantime enjoy all the pleasures of autumn and let us hope the frosts stay away for as long as possible. Hope you like this final pic - the entrance to Malvern Showground: a consummation of the best of autumn's harvest.