April Rise - if ever saw blessing in the air I see it now

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What a fantastic month - April as it should be. Just the right amounts of rain, sun and warmth and only one frost all month (9 last year). Plants have responded with increaing vigour both in the gardens and surrounding countryside. Pictures say it better than ever I can.

Amelancheir lamarckii - one of the best early spring flowering small trees with masses of white flowers against bronze new foliage



Magnolia loebneri



Cold frames bursting at the seams!



Approaching storm early April



Our near neighbours!



Evening sunlight on alders along the river



The first flower on a new tree peony planted 3 years ago



And a long established favourite "Molly the Witch" (Paeonia mlokosewitschii!)



The woodland by the Stream Garden late April



Emerging flower head on Maianthemum racemosum happy by the stream edge where it has been for 20 years



And in complete contrast from the driest part of the garden the first flower of the year on the bearded iris snapped on a windy night


We also had our long awaited trip to Dorset to give a talk to The Hardy Plant Society there which went down really well with over 100 people in the audience. More on this under the "Visits" heading below.

Last month I waxed lyrical about the works of Dylan Thomas whose centenary is being celebrated this year. He has long been one of my favourite writers, and by pure chance, and only recently did I discover this, it is also the centenary of Laurie Lee, the Gloucestershire poet from Slad, Stroud.  I grew up with his seminal work "Cider with Rosie" from my first year at grammar school in Stroud shortly after the book was published. Down the years it still resonates with me and I subsequently discovered his poems, most of which are rooted deep in the countryside and reflect his gift of encapsulating closely observed aspects of life particularly in rural Gloucestershire. The headline to this News Item is the title of one of his best loved poems, perfectly capturing the special feeling, light and colours of an April morning. To read it go to  www.poemhunter.com/poem/april-rise/

When I can't think of a Headline title it is wonderful to have them in the wings to provide just the right words - there will be more in months to come. See if you can identify who wrote them.



Apart from the third week in the month leading up to Easter, it was mild both day and night, with just one frost -2C on the night of Good Friday. A few other nights were cold too but no frost thank goodness. The "snowmen" (see March News) came to the rescue again! 11 days over 15C with a max of 19.2 on the penultimate day of the month. There was enough heavy rain to keep everything looking lush but no prolonged spells and after all the wind in winter little to cause any concerns or damage. More of this next year please!!


Garden update

At last with the drier weather I was able to rotovate the vegetable garden which was the hardest I have ever know it thanks to a combination of all the very heavy winter rains, walking on some of beds to harvest late brassicas and no sharp frosts to break down the soil. As soon as that was done in went 16 rows of potatoes from earlies to main crops including for the first time  "Blue Belle" which comes highly recommended as a good all rounder, but I still stand by my all time favourite "Desiree" which can always be relied upon to crop and store well. I also managed to sow some small seeds, plant out some early brassicas and sow the first peas which as always attracted mice which can do more damage in a single night than any other pest, but this year the mousetraps were ready for them!



 I have recently begun the mammoth task of turning over (with a garden claw which is highly effective) and feeding all the flower borders (with a general application of pelleted chicken manure and a more specific application of fish, blood and bone for plants like hellebores, hostas and clematis). Rose food too for roses and flowering shrubs.

 The garden claw an indispensible tool ergonimically designed to be kind to your back needing a simple twisting movement to break up the top 4 inches of soil


Whilst doing this I think I have found a rival to bittercress - honesty seedlings. Honestly!! Lovely as they may be in the depth of winter the white seed cases are quite a price to pay for unwanted seedlings in profusion so this year no winter seed pod show. And a real deeprooted thug is alstroemeria aurantica a South American species which feels very much at home in Wales! It spreads like wildfire with deep seated, fleshy roots and is a mightmare to keep under control. I will have to take the advice from a gardening friend Bob Dyer who plants all his invasive plants in bottomless pots which dramatically limits their ability to run.


Seeds in the refurbsihed propagating tunnel have done well with little damping off thanks to being able to vent regularly and the later sowing regimes. I believe I have also succeeded in my goal of reducing the number of varieties of seed sown, something which Moira refutes having done most of the pricking out!!

New rasperry canes were planted in the month (Glen Cova, Glen Ample and Polka) as were 2 new blueberries and a few shrubs including a stunning cornus kousa "Miss Satomi" which we fell in love with at RHS Rosemoor last summer. Beautiful pink flowers and fiery autumn colour. I buy new shrubs even though we are fast running out of room for them. 

Sadly it looks as though my tallest acer at the back of the Paddock Pond is on its last legs with very few leafing branches. The bark in the trunk at the graft union has for some time been splitting away and without the all important cambrium the tree can no longer survive.  Shame because it is the most perfectly place tree and will take some removing.


What's looking good?

A conveyor belt of stars have come and gone such is the ephemeral naure of spring flowering plants. Early on there was the later flowering daffodils especially Thalia and Pippet, a kaleidescope of shades of yellow throughout its flowering period, and no April would be complete without the poeticus types.

Nacissus poeticus a little battered after heavy overnight rain mid April



Next and overlapping with the daffodils, came the epimediums with their delicate often patterned new leaves and flowers in various  shades of yellow, red and white, and amber along with a tawny brown form which I have had for ages and haven't a clue what it is! a Christo Lloyd once remarked "Who cares - just enjoy it"!!Not a large collection I accept but one I cherish every year about this time and rarely have they flowered better

This epimedium came to me as e. rubrum - it is a real stunner



Huge flowers on this form, variety unknown



And the most poular recent introduction "Amber Queen"


Dicentras have enjoyed the frost free conditions, and  if it doesn't get too hot, they will continue until the end of May.  A dwarf form, "King of Hearts" an ideal subject for the front of a border, and in some shade, can often flower right through ther summer. A particular favourite we have had since the 1990's, which is now making a comeback in the garden centres and nurseries after some years in the wilderness, is D, "Goldheart" with bright yellow leaves and pink flowers which may seem quite odd but in spring almost anything goes! 



A really good new introduction is d."Valentine" with dusky red flowers and glaucous bronze leaf. Choice but still quite expensive.



Acers are lovely when the leaves are just opening and in the form "Orange Dream" they are a distinct orange especially when caught by the late evening sunshine (what a surprise!) for a few days before they start to fade to yellow. Other woody subjects include viburnums of various kinds which are almost always heavily scented, and a few dwarf rhododenrdons and azaleas around the House Pond, 


Acer "Orange Dream":  individual leaf and the whole tree





Erythroniums have done well especially revolutum which is lovely but quite expensive to buy. I am bulking it up in pots for a few years to split. From seed they aren't difficult as long as you are patient as it takes 5 years or so for the seedlings to flower

Erythronium revolutum



Hostas are in that magical stage where as the pips swell before the leaves open, they show some fantastic colours on what will be the stems  supporting the leaves when fully open, They have however been rather patchy this spring with some particular hostas throwing up individual leaves over a long period rather than the even growth pattern we usually see. Some have yet to start opening in the deeper shade areas of the gardens.

Hosta "Golden Auriole" opens this stunning yellow before fading later to chartreuse



I still hold out hopes that one of our seed grown cardiocrinum giganteum plants will flower this year. Most I am resigned to having to wait another year but one particular subject now has a 3 foot stem so maybe this will be the one and if so I can't wait to see it in flower and to share it with you.



Finally and after all I said about the nuisanace created by honesty seedlings. we have some lovely examples of lunaria variegata alba which have put themselves in the most perfect places, and as an extra bonus they fill the air with scent, as is the case with all the flowering members of the cabbage tribe (think wallflowers or stocks for example to name just a couple).



And a couple of late additions. The wonderful emerging stem colour on the large umbellifer peucedanum verticillare which takes 4 years to flower then promptly dies but you do get thousands of seeds to start the whole process again!



And in the small tunnel, a survivor of the ravages of winter this stunning blue flower of echium candicans


Wildlife and countryside

A very busy month with bird nests all over the gardens (blackbirds, robins, hedge sparrows, pied wagtails, wood pigeons and magpies in a large nest in an apple tree that we could have done without with so many other vulnerable nests all around. The return of the swallows on 20 April, a few whitethroats and willow warblers but as yet no sightings of any redstarts or pied flycatchers, the latter a concern as I provided new nest boxes to replace the much used old ones that were destroyed in the winter gales.

A male blacbird brings in supper.


There have also been sightings of goosanders but not in the Paddock Pond thank goodness as they are voracious predators of fish. The undoubted highlight was the call of a cuckoo on 29 April, the first heard here for many years. It was suggested to me yesterday by a local forester, that the reducing numbers of songbirds in low;land areas like ours means fewer nests in which the cuckoos can lay their eggs, As he visits upland areas he claims that there are many more cuckoos on the hills, frequented in good numbers by pippits, which are the surrogate bids of choice of cuckoos.

An exciting but not entirely welcome event in the Paddock Pond was the arrival of a young otter on the evening of 23 April. It was totally oblivious of me on the bank as I watched it try to get through the thick blanketweed to the fish. In doing so he was just like a dolphin, arching its back and trying to force the head under the weed. Fortunately I had the camera to hand but it proved almost impossible to photograph it, so rapid were the movements. In doing so it came to within a foot of me! After shooing it out of the pond I restored the electric fence that I had only taken down the week before.

In my minds eye I had visions of winning the "Countryfile" wildlife photograph of the year. What could be simpler with an otter just a few feet away? As soos as it came to capture the all important pic. a combination of the speed of the otter and my sheer incompetence with a camera, I realised it as not going to be! But trust me this is the arching back of an otter about to dive again!!


The lambs in the surrounding fields probably outnumber us humans by a count of 50 -1 and are a great source of entertainment. I could watch their antics for ages even though they all do the same things every year. It is like a speeded up version of our own childhoods: staying close to Mum in the early  days, making new friends with other lambs, joining up in big gangs and racing each other, head butting (the equivalent of fighting in the playground) and as they get a little older they get really stroppy and hang around anywhere except near their Mums, ignoring their calls to come back to them. Occasionally they do some unusual things like sleeping on their mothers backs when it is cold, or escaping the fields onto the road and terrorising the traffic, especially visitors who are not used to counry lanes. Sadly in just a few short months all the abandoned gaiety comes to an abrupt end. 

Baby stage.



Growing up and looking for trouble



What do you want to do then?  Racing or head butting?"



Wild flowers have been prolific with wood anmeones, primroses, cowslips,celandines and latterly bluebells putting on the kind of show that no garden could ever emulate.

Celandines and wood anemones along a country lane.



Visits and visitors

There were 5 talks during the month, all very enjoyable and successful, two of them to new venues; one at Hermon in the Prescelli Hills of Pembrokeshire, and the other was a first speaking engagement in England when we visited Wimborne in Dorset  to give a talk to the Dorset Group of The Hardy Plant Society (HPS). These events are always special occasions, usually on a Saturday afternoon, well attended by kindred plantspeople who really know their stuff and as members of the Society for many years we feel instantly at home. The welcome we had however was exceptional and the attendance of over 100 was the largest audience I have ever spoken to. Rather than daunted I was inspired by their enthusiasm, knowledge and the insatiabale appetite they had for all the plants for sale we brought with us  which sold out in next to no time!


The lively and entusiastic audience. Note the empty plants sales table at the front and all the bulging bags under the seats.


It was memorable experience and as an added bonus we had a special guided tour of Knoll Gardens on the Sunday by Judy, a volunteer guide and gardener, who is also a member of the HPS. Although not many of the grasses for which the gardens are famous were in growth it was good to see the bare bones and in particular the naturalistic and skillfully shaped borders. It was a surprise to see so many fine trees although there were casualties of the storms around the gardens. and in some sections there was some good spring plantings which we had not expected. 

Pics from Knoll Gardens

 Gravel garden



Clever underplaning of carex "Evergold" under a stand of myrtles in a very dry shade



A woodland garden was something I wasn't expecting to see but it was well done with this superb blue rhododendron at the entrance.





A sad footnote: this 40 year old eucalyptus, the tallest tree in the gardens was felled by a severe gale on Valentines Day. Moira and Judy give some idea of the size of the tree and the huge trunk is as long again as the part you can see in the pic. With its silvery trunk and peeling bark it makes quite a statement in a jungle like part of the garden. Kew Gardens have advised that as the roots are still in the ground it may sprout again.



Moira's purchase from Special Plants nursery - Dancing Ladies! Steel garden ornaments with a patina of rust. Who was the model?



As for visits to Cilgwyn Lodge Gardens we are open for the National Gardens Scheme by appointment from June to September. This isn't as stuffy as it might sound - its just to be sure that we don't get too may visitors on any one day and that we will be around when you would like to come. Please get in touch if you would like to see the gardens this summer. The nursery only is also open on the same terms if you would like to purchase from a good range of interesting and unusual plants.

We have one special booking for May when a local couple are having their wedding photographs in the Gardens. The third time that the gardens have been used in this way and we are flattered to be able to offer this facility on a very special day.