At last November brings autumn colour on trees and shrubs

Saturday, November 30, 2013

First the headline news.

If you read the September News item you will know that we were invited to submit an article about Cilgwyn Lodge for the online  Daylily Diary of the American Hemerocallis Society (AHS). Each week in the winter months the Diary features a garden which grows daylilies both within the USA and overseas (the AHS is a very large plant society with a worldwide reputation and membership). Those outside the USA are featured as International Garden of the Week. It was our turn on 23 November (the first Welsh garden to haven had the honour) and what a thrill it was to see our garden posted on an American website. We have had many kind e-mails from readers and can now give you the chance to see the article by visiting 

Now back to everyday life at Cilgwyn!

Keeping with the American theme, at this time of year Frank Sinatra's bittersweet "September Song" always comes vividly to mind as I reflect upon the gardening year and its imminent ending. Just a few more precious and golden days before the curtain comes down once again and the dark days of winter descend upon us. This year it has arrived very late with the  best leaf colour arriving in the third week of the month and lasting for just a few days:but what tremendous colour! Not just on garden trees and shrubs but on all the native trees in the surrounding countryside. 

A few images to give a flavour of what we have experienced at Cilgwyn this month.

Acer palmatum "Orange Dream" Picture taken Tuesday 19 November when leaves first coloured.



Three days later most of the leaves had fallen making a wonderful contrast with the green marbled leaves of the underplanted cyclamen hederifolia



Acer palmatum (label long since lost!) Unlike the one above this one still has most of its red leaves 2 weeks later! 



Hydrangea "Preziosa" showing wonderful almost black leaf colour. It is of undetermined parentage but colours up well like a good serrata. It has been in the garden for several years but it  has never taken on these hues before.



Miscanthus sinensis "Overdam"catching low, late afternoon sunshine. A tall, tidy, stately form of this invaluable hardy grass



And a little quiz (answer at the end) - this is a seedhead of what plant?


The abnormally long slide from summer to late autumn has given plenty of time to start the process of "putting the garden to bed" and to get under cover all the tender plants in pots. Cuttings have been taken in abundance, a wide variety of seed gathered and divisions of hardy perennials made and potted up for next year. 

Fallen leaves this year have been easily managed thanks to the loan of a powerful leaf blower from our friend Rob, the "lawn guru". As usual I have saved plenty of leaves to mulch the many tender plants like agapanthus, salvias and impatiens planted in the borders. With good drainage throughout the gardens and the extra insurance of the mulch, we usually get all our tender plants through for next year.

 Here I am feeling like James Bond ready to take off any minute!


As to the best time to cut back the spent growth on herbaceous perennials there is no definitive answer. Every gardener seems to have their own ideas; some cut back in autumn to tidy the garden and get off to an early start in spring whereas others (me included) prefer to wait until late winter. We all have our own reasons. Mine are fourfold: firstly I have so many other things to do in autumn I never have sufficient time, secondly the seed heads on spent perennials are an important early winter larder for wildlife, especially  birds, thirdly the spent flowerheads can look fabulous when laced with ice or snow, and finally the retention of all the dead growth does provide some measure of protection for the dormant plants in a prolonged cold winter.

Gunnera is the one plant I always cut back before the worst of the frosts arrive.  The spiny stems up to 2" in diameter are easily cut through with a pruning saw. Sad to see such a noble plant laid low, but covered with it's own leaves it will survive the coldest winter. If you come from Brazil you need to wrap up well!!



I only have one plant to cut back but at Trebah Gardens in west Cornwall they have 100's to cut back and what an architectural statement it makes.



The usual November mix, remaining mild until mid month but very wet and windy at times. Max temperature 15C. Then the first real frost on the 13th followed by increasingly colder weather day and night, below the seasonal average. 5 frosts so far with a min of -6C on the 23rd. A few flakes of snow and lying snow for a time on the surrounding hills above 750feet.

With several Min/Max thermometers stationed at intervals throughout the gardens it is interesting to compare the climate zones. The top end of the House Garden can often be 4C warmer than the lowest part of the Paddock Garden nearest the river just 90 yards away. It is always said that frost goes to water and these crude statistics would appear to support the country lore!


Garden update

The garden has slipped gently into winter mode after a colourful start to the month. There were still some asters in bloom (in particular  a, frickarti "Monch" which had been in flower for nearly 4 months, a.turbinellus and a.horizontalis "Lady in Black),  dahlias, several forms of hardy chrysanthemums, some really good saxifraga fortunei cultivars that had enjoyed the mild damp conditions, hardy fuchsias and a great late show on many hydrangeas. still throwing up new flowers well into the month, some with great autumn leaf colour too. One thing however is clear is that members of the daisy family hate heavy rain. Within a few days of its arrival most of the them simply came to an abrupt end. Hardy geraniums however prove their worth at this time of year. We still have a few oxonianums, sanguineums, "Anne Folkard" and the "Plant of the Century" "Roxanne" still setting new flower buds!

Saxifraga fortunei "Pink Mist" - dainty, floriferous and long flowering

DSC_2467 .

Leaf clearing is an essential task especially from the lawns which had their last cut and autumn feed on the 8th. Digging up large and precious tender perennials for potting up and storing in the tunnels and continuing taking cuttings are other essential tasks to complete before the winter sets in.

We have had superb crop of root vegetables some of which have been harvested for winter storage (carrots, beetroots, celeriac and Japanese radish). Others like swede, parsnip, salsify and turnips we leave in the ground to harvest as we require. Including brassicas, salad leaves, tomatoes,peppers and a section of dried and frozen veg., we have 20 varieties to choose from.

 The best of the carrots (Kingston and Resisitafly) celeriac (essential to sow it under protection in early February), and beetroot Boltardy a good old fashioned and long keeping variety. (this of course is a selection of the very best!)  Would I show you all the forked carrots of which there were plenty?!!


Autumn leaf colour has been superb for just a few days with some of the newer acer introductions colouring properly for the first time. As most plants fade into dormancy the winter stars are beginning to come into their own. A few early flowers on cyclamen coum, flower buds appearing on helleborus foetidus, sarcacocca too, swelling buds seducing us with the prospect of intense scent on the coldest of winter days


What's looking good?

The polytunnels are the place to look! The protection they afford with heat on colder nights greatly extends the season at the back end of the year. They are a lovely place to be especially on a cold, dark, wet day. Currently in flower we have brugmanias. chrysanthemums for cutting, salvias, impatiens, justiceas, a few fuchsias, cestrum newellii, some dwarf alstroemerias, nerines and plectranthus. The last of the tomatoes are hanging on, some still setting on the 14th truss of "Rosada" the superb plum fruited variety that I have raved about in previous news items. Also continuing to flower is hedychium "Luna Moth" I mentioned last month. Not only have new stems started to produce flowers but stems that previously flowered are starting to flower again at the tips where the old flowers appeared to have finished. In my experience of growing hedychiums this is most unusual. 

Plectranthus zuluensis. This plant is an interesting  member of the lamiaceae  which I first purchased in the early 1990's from Healings Mill in Gloucestershire. Cuttings are a piece of cake from which plants can make a bushy shrub in one year. In the sub tropical areas of the southern hemisphere particularly South Africa, India and Australia which are their stronghold there are over 300 species and numerous cultivars. Closely related to coleus (now solenostemon) they require winter protection. P. zulensis is one of seven types I grow and in my experience it is is the most reliable one flowering from May to December (there's that Frank Sinatra song again!).



Tender nerine sarniensis in a pot in the large tunnel. 



Can you believe this hosta "El Nino" still looking in prime condition in the middle of November long after all the other 200 in the gardens have started to fade.


I must finally make a mention of the fact that for the first time a brugmansia planted outdoors in a sheltered spot flowered this month. There were 8 flowers in bloom and whenever frost was forecast I dutifully covered them with thick layers of the indispensible horti -fleece (often at some ungodly hour!). Sadly the minus 6C brought the show to an abrupt end as it did to the amazing display of the cobaea scandens scrambling over the shrubs by the conservatory.

 The brugmansia in flower alongside the red  Abysnnian banana  shortly before the frost got them.



Wildlife and countryside

This month the highlight was the autumn colour on the native trees in  fields and woodland all around us.  There are some very good berries in profusion on the  hollies which is due to the absence of any fieldfare and redwing migrants from Siberia (so far). Also missing are the  large flocks of starlings which are usually common by now.

 Local forest with European larch in full autumn glory. We are lucky that so far the dreaded phytopthora disease which is ravaging some forests in Wales has not yet reached us.



Cilgwyn Lodge looking across the Paddock Garden. The yellow autumn colour it the righty hand side is from a Wych Elm which we treasure as there are so few left here. They get so big then the Dutch Elm Disease catches up with them. Fingers crossed.


Our friends the robins are constant companions when working in the gardens, closely followed by the blackbirds which were in continuous attendance when I dug the root crops  a couple of weeks ago -plenty of juicy worms to feast on! There are also some very inquisitive wrens around the house where all the little nooks and crannies provide a food source, an ideal refuge from the frosty nights and protection from predators. Because of their light body weight they are highly susceptible to intense cold and were almost wiped out by the Big Freeze of 1962/1963 especially and several times since then.

An unusual and highly unwelcome passing visitor last week was a cormorant flying over the Paddock Pond on its way back to the sea 30 miles away after a day no doubt of plundering fish stocks on the upper River Towy. Fortunately it didn't stop off at the "Paddock Pond Takeway" as one did some years ago at Christmastime.

Rabbits continue to plague the gardens chewing plants and digging holes everywhere. They have developed a taste for Brusssels Sprouts, chewing the more accessible ones back to the stem.

Finally two examples of the strength that small creatutres posess. When blowing the leaves off the lawns I wondered why unlike most leaves a few didn't readily blow away. On closer inspection I discovered the answer. Worms had begun to drag them underground and compared to the size of a lobworm, a leaf from a cherry tree is a big challenge. However in some cases the leaves had already been dragged partly into the worm hole and in such position were tightly anchored. We always know what worms do to improve the quality of soil and here was living proof.

The other occurred when pressure washing the greenhouses. If you own a greenhouse you will know just how many spiders webs there are by the end of the season and welcome they are too removing large quantities of troublesome pests in a wholly organic way. Now that the spiders have gone into dormancy the cobwebs are removed by the force of the pressure jets - or are they? It is amazing just how resilient the cobwebs are. Even a single strand can take the full blast of a jet at close quarters and still remain intact. Nature can make you feel very humble!


Visits and visitors

Two talks this month at opposite ends of Wales. One for the local gardening club at Newquay in West Wales beloved of Dylan Thomas whose Centenary year this is, and the other at Usk in the east for Monmouthshire Group of  The Hardy Plant Society. Both talks very well received, the one in Usk generating much good discussion from many experienced veg. growers which highlighted the wide range of perennial vegetables available to home growers - over 50 listed on some websites. Visit for more info. One more talk in December at our old friends Brecon and District Horticultural Society for their Christmas meeting  and then  a really wide range of talks and venues in the New Year including The Llandysul Winter Gardening Weekend in February and our first talk in England to a Group meeting of Dorset Hardy Plant Society. Exciting times ahead!

In 2014 for the 15th time, we shall once again be opening for The National Gardens Scheme for by appointment visits between June and September. Although this may seem a rather formal arrangement, it is simply a way of managing our visitor season so that we can cope more easily with the number of visitors at any one time, and with more  limited numbers than an Open Day, it gives a better visitor experience. Please do get in touch if you would like to pay us a visit, especially if you are coming a long way or planning a trip in July which is our busiest month.  

 Seed heads of clematis tibetana var.vernayi a member of the tangutica group well known for its long lasting seedheads



On the subject of seed heads the answer to the quiz question I posed earlier is hosta. Hope you got it right!


One last rather sad piece of news. For many years visitors have expressed delight at the silver skeleton of a long dead oak tree at the top of the hill behind the Lodge. It made a dramatic architectural statement in an absolutely perfect spot. Recently it had become dangerous to livestock with falling limbs so my neighbour Ifor had no choice but to remove it, roots and all. Amazingly it had been growing in less than a foot of topsoil on shale, so it did well to reach maturity. Thanks for all the pleasure you gave old friend.