A turbulent October shows the other side of autumn

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Welcome at last to our October News. Please accept my sincere apologies for the late posting of the news but we lost Broadband connection for 7 days at the end of the month

As we move deeper into autumn parts the garden, as to be expected, are beginning to look a little ragged at the edges. Some plants have finished and others are just hanging on. but on 28 October I counted 243 plants still in bloom many also showing new buds The autumn colour is incredibly good and there are other treasures doing their stuff too. The priority tasks have moved away from watering, deadheading and general titivating to taking cuttings and diviisions, removing congested clumps of hardy perennials and harvesting vegetables for storage.

 The view across the Paddock Garden with from left to right cercis canadensis, cornus kousa var.chinensis and cornus controversa showing good autumn colour



Two weeks on and cercis canadensis "Forest Pansy" is a brilliant deep red just a few days before a gale brought the show to an abrupt end



Cutting back the gunnera which was huge this year is always a task to complete before the frosts arrive. All the leaves are used to cover the tender crowns of the plant. Some of the leaf stems, covered in sharp spines, are 2 inches thick but easily sliced through with a pruning saw.



Getting in the firewood is an essential task with some lovely air dried oak from the woods above Trefenty, thanks to our good farmer neighbour Ifor.



And from the woods is this great view looking south to the Lodge in the bottom of the valley at 250 feet and the protecting hill beyond at 650feet



It is also the time to start major repairs and refurbishment all over the gardens, with a long list to keep me busy during the rest of autumn and into winter. It is nice to have some different jobs to do away from gardening. Much as love all aspects of gardening from January to October by this time of year I am ready for a change. I do hate it however when the clocks go back and Christmas starts to creep everywhere. Don't you?



A very mixed bag of weather with frequent rain and wind, thunder and lightning in the first part of the month but some very mild days and nights and no threat of frost.  A fabulous full moon and clear weather to enjoy it. We missed out on the " Super Moon" last month but this month's almost made up for it. Min 4.1   Max 18.7C  

I typed this on 29 October before our broadband went down. Then on the last day of the month we had a daytime max of 21C with an overnight min of 15.6 to complete a warm week when shirt sleeves were the order of the day. More weather records broken!



Garden Update

Hanging baskets under the verandah, a feature here every year  from 1977 onwards, took a battering earlier in the month and had to be talken down by mid month. I do miss them but the house is much lighter  and there is less daily work for me to do. It also gave the opportunity to complete the log pile under the verandah which will supply most of our winter needs. I know that from 1913 onwards everyone who has lived at the Lodge has created a similar log store - goodness knows how many tons of wood have been burned in that time. A good mix this year of oak, ash, willow, pine, alder and some beech and sycamore all gathered and cut up by me.

The vegetable garden continues to be productive from fresh and in store. Swedes and parsnips are now ready and there are still a good range of salad leaves including some well blanched endive which adds a slighter bitter but welcome  tang to a mixed salad. The outdoor ridge cucumbers have been the best ever but are now coming to an end. Smaller but sweeter than hothouse varieties they are easier too but are rarely every straight like the climbing kind. 

The outdoor cucumbers variety "Burpees"  towards the end but still a few fruits left to harvest. We have been self sufficient in them for 4 months.




Tomatoes continue to ripen well with plenty more still to come although the fruit on mini plum "Rosada" begins to split as soon as it iripens. "Rosada" on the left of the basket, "Gourmet" on the right.



The overworked basket with shelled berlotti beans - a "favourite" job of Moira's! Not only good to look at but a wonderful addition to casseroles and salad.



There are some unsung heroes at this time of year that may not be stars in their own right but considerably add to the enjoyment of October.   Here  are some of the best of them


Saxifraga fortunei "Rubrifolia" which prefers shade and moisture and  looks good with evergreen leaves of plants such a heuchera "Frosted Violet Dream", also in the saxifraga family.



At first glance you could mistake the plants in this pic as an aster, but they are another member of the daisy family, kalimeris (cultivar name unknown) Commonly called the "Korean aster" they have been in full flower since late July never seeming to have any spent flowers or requiring deadheading. Making a dome of about 80cms they are quite a statement even though they are not show stoppers. It is easy to take them for granted but for their reliabilty, long flowering period they are certainly an unsung hero long after the prima donnas have given up the ghost.



This one is however a showstopper when in flower, A bromeliad, fascicularia bicolour can be hardy if you have a very sheltered spot in well drained soil. Planted on its side to prevent water gathering in the crown it is said to be hardy to -10C but in our frost pocket garden it stays in a large plot and overwinters in a tunnel. At Picton Castle they grow like weeds outdoors.



Sorbus commixta "Olymic Flame" a good tight upright form has wonderful autumn colour quite early on, red berries and good panicles of white flowers in spring



A really late flowering daisy is bidens heterophylla "Hannay's Lemon Drop". It runs a bit especially in the moist spot I have it in, but has a lovely airy  habit and flowers in profusion to 5 feet



 Even when the flowers fade some plans like this rudbeckia var. sulliantii "Gold Sturm" have lovely seed heads, these bosses of black make quite a statement sometimes until December. One of the  reasons why I don't cut back herbaceous plants until late winter



The fully ripe seed pod of arisaema ciliatum liubaense ready to be harvested, cleaned of all the flesh, dried and sown next spring. Leave them any longer and blackbirds and rodents will devour the berries overnight.



The nursery area needs to be cut back and all plants put under cover - cold frames, tunnels or green houses. The key to getting plants in pots through the winter is to keep them on the dry side and over the course of  the last 8 years or so I have had very few losses whatever the winter has thrown at us. All autumn cuttings and divisions as well as more tender plants and large planters, have the luxury of heated polytunnel protection.

Considering all the rain we have had and warm weather the lawns, particular;y in the House Garden, have not come back well from the major scarifying and top dressing they had at the end of August and there are still some bare patches despite sowing grass seed twice! They will come back even if I have to sow again next spring!! I am still mowing  which also takes care of the many leaves beginning to fall on them.

Finallly I have just finished drying and cleaning 46 varieties of seed from the garden for my own use, to donate to the Hardy Plant Society for their fabulous Seed Exchange for members or to share with clubs and societies when I deliver talks.




What's looking good.

Simply salvias, brugmansias, roses, superb leaf colour and impatiens. There is also an amazing coulour show in the greenhouses and tunnels and the dahlias are still sending out masses of flowers too

A gallery of some of the very best

 Brugmansia suaveolens in pot outside the conservatory. Feeding with liquid fertilser high in potash ensures continous flowering and a warm summer helps too!



Salvia splendens "Van Houttei"



Salvia leucanthe "Santa Barbara"



Salvia "Phyllis Fancy"



Salvia "Amistad"



 All the salvias above make about 4-5 feet and are tender.


Dahlia merckii in a paler form than the type is a profuse flowerer from early July until the frosts and is still going strong. It has proved very hardy for me over many years and is now a large plant 6' wide and tall.



An unusual form of dahlia this is Honka yellow. Not everyone's idea of a dahlia perhaps but interesting and a valuable late flowerer with less petals to spoil in wet weather



Now (and at last!!) on to touch -me-nots, balsams or bizzie lizzies. A fascinating and highly varied genus with over 1,000 species and some cultivars. Mostly known to gardeners through impatiens walleriana (the bedding bizzie lizzie), and the larger New Guinea hybrids. Also through Himalayan balsam (impatiens glandulifera) which has become naturalised in many parts of the UK in moist positions along streams and rivers and shady road verges to the extent that it is now considered a noxious weed. 

There are some far less invasive forms both perennials and annuals that are hardy and can be safely grown in the garden in a moist sheltered spot. Very few of the 1000 or so species are available to gardeners in the UK (the 2014 Plant Finder lists only 60) and many of those are tender. In total we currently grow 15 at Cilgwyn Lodge and they have done very well over a number of years. Given that the traditional "bizzie lizzie" has succumbed badly to downy mildew over the past few years, why not try some of those listed below representing a selection of those that we grow, and which so far seem immune to the disease. They all flower almost continuously throughout the summer until the frosts.

Oh and by the way I have should have mentioned that the name "touch me nots" comes from the explosive seed pods which when ripe and gently touched at the base fire the seeds in all directions - and if you try this mind your eyes!

Impatiens glandulifera - Himalayan balsam, fortunately not at Cilgwyn Lodge, much as I like the flowers



I have a very soft spot for I. tinctoria which was the first I acquired, a tuberous, sweetly scented form to 7 feet, from the mountains of eastern Africa but established at Colgwyn for 15 years



Recently discovered by Dan Hinkley in the far east is this variant of I. omieana, without a regiseterd name at present. Large flowers and deep green leaves with red midribs and stems. Set to become a stunning addition to my collection 



A clump forming species with masses of yellow flowers and dark green, bluish leaves - dainty and attractive and at just 2 feet tall a suitable choice for the front of a border



 One of the tender forms is I. sodenii a tall tuberous rooted with large outward facing flowers up to 2 inches wide



And surely the best named form is I. niamniamensis variegata the golden cockatoo from central Africa  so definitely tender. 



The only known blue form is I. namchabarwensis found in the Himalayas in the deepest gorge in the world. It behaves like an annual in the garden and in my experience does not set seed. Grow some in a tunnel however and during the late winter the seeds come up like mustard and cress in surrounding pots for pricking out to flower later in the year.



Passiflora rubra in the small tunnel. It now covers the upper framework to a distance of 20 feet.



Nerine sarniensis in the large tunnel



 A collection of streptocarpus, begonias, pelargoniums, fuchsias and other tender plants - over 100 plants in an 8 x 6 feet greenhouse



Although there aren't too many herbaceous that have good autumn leaf colour some hostas and hardy geraniums, amsonias, roscoeas and thalictrums often colour up well,


Roscoea "Red Gurkha"



Thalictrum "Splendide"



 Rosa "Gentle Hermione" from David Austin is a beautiful flower but on a rather arching plant which holds the flowers down. Modest scent but good repeat.



Wildlife and Countryside

Having seen what we thought were the last of the swallows in early October, there was another good showing on a fine day in the second week of the month with perhaps well over a hundred birds on the wires and swooping over the fields (not sure of the numbers but have you ever tried to count swallows ?) Just as quickly as they arrived they were off again on their long journey south.

Some wonderful berries in the hedgerows from spindle (euonymus) , guelder rose (viburums), sloes, wild roses and hawthorn. With the mild autumn they have been largely untouched but they won't be here long when the cold weather comes and the fieldfares and redwings arrive form colder areas of northern Europe.


Remaining blackberries shrivelled on the bush - it was a very good year for them



When visiting West Wales earlier in the month I was struck by just how common the Welsh native fern polypodium cambricum is in shaded banks, hedgerows and woodland. Many unusual forms have been discovered in the past by avid fern collectors (particularly Victorians) and there is now a good choice available for suitable spots in the garden. It is unusual type of fern because it comes into growth often as late as July but then continues all through autumn and winter staying evergreen in milder winters. It is generally easy to please and I am starting to acquire a modest collection. Knowing me it won't be modest for very long!

 Polypodium cambricum in woodland  appreciating the moist air near Cenarth Falls



 And at Cilgwyn a named form probably wild collected, polypodium "Conwy"



Whilst gathering firewood from Trefynty I went past a field of cows and a large Charolais Bull. It brought back to mind an event some years ago when I tried to prevent a bull on the loose in the road, from coming into the drive. He wasn't having any of it as he had thoughts on getting into an adjacent field of rather pretty hefeirs. At a steady trot he came after me and believe me if you have ever been that close to a bull you will know how big they are. From somewher in the long distant past I found a turn of speed that saw me placed a respecatble 3rd in the under 14's 100 yards at my grammar school, to out pace him and fly through a field gate to safety. I was closely followed by my neighbour Ifor armed with the stockman's best friend in these situations, a fine length of stout alkathene pipe. Fearless he "gently" persuaded the bull to change direction and got him back safely. Ifor says never take a chance with a bull and believe me I have no intention of doing so ever again!!





With friends Sylvia and Tony staying for  a few days after the last Plant Fair of the year at Hergest Croft, Kington, Herefordshire we took the opportunity in fine weather to go back to West Wales to Poppit  Sands (again)which has left quite an impression on Moira and me.

Evening sunlight on the beach at Poppit



On the way home we stopped off at Cenarth Falls on the River Teifi. We have pictures from 1973 when Tony, Sylvia and I last visited and it is so reassuring that we don't seem to look any older!! I can't show you the pictures of course as they are pre-digital age so you will just have to take my word for it!! The Falls still look as beautiful too.






Our second outing was to the Llanelli Wetlands Centre which if you have the time is an all day venue with walks far out to the estuary of the River Loughour and interest nearer the centre with a collection of wildfowl from all over the world in a very naturalistic setting

 Flamingoes venturing out of their warm shed - a somewhat bizarre  but warming scene on a raw Welsh afternoon



And of all the many attractive ducks from around the world the eider for me has star billing - such perfection of line and colour it doesn't look real.



Just one talk in October with thanks to Bronwydd Garden Club for their warm welcome and good attendance. Hope to see you all again when you visit the gardens in 2015.

And finally, totally appropriate for the last day of October, Moira and I judged the Halloween pumpkins and fancy drees competition at Llangadog Community Centre. We never realised how many children there are in our localiity and they had a wonderful time in an amazing range of costumes from fairy princesses to zombies! Their pumpkin carving was very good too.


Thanks for staying on until the end of this mammoth News Item . I assure your for the next few months they wiill be substantially shorter!