February fails to fill the dyke but freezes the Paddock Pond

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Another cold month held back the late winter plants so that like the January News Item there is not much of substance to report. The ground has been either frozen or wet making it difficult to get on with essential outdoor tasks. The polytunnels provide sanctuary to make some progress with re-potting plants in the nursery and to continue with seed sowing.

On higher ground there was heavy snow early in the month. This was the scene from the woods above Cilgwyn Lodge to the Carmarthenshire fans 8 miles away


 And at maximum zoom this is the sandstone cliff face of  the highest peak in the western Brecon Beacons at 802 metres




Frosty nights and cold days with no rain on the first 10 days were very enjoyable with brilliantly clear skies making the fields safe to get in more firewood.

During the first 2 weeks the barometer pressure was steady at 30.5"



There were some brilliant skyscapes 





The full moon rising beyond the forest trees - sorry that the picture doesn't quite come off but a nice idea!


Wet weather returned by the second weekend which alternated with cold spells until the month end. Rivers rose only slightly even though the garden was soaking again, There were 16 nightime frosts Min -7 and a max daytime temperature of 12C . Ice on the Paddock Pond but not as thick as might be expected as I am keeping a good flow of water through the pond from the stream that feeds it.

At the end of meteorlogical winter the total number of days with a min below zero in the 3 months was 42 making it much colder than 2013/2014. (Only 11 frosts Min -6C). It was also stated to be the sunniest winter for 80 years!


Garden update and what's looking good?

The dry start to the month enabled me to remove all the 450 or so plant stakes from the borders, to cut back the dead stems and have one of my few but much loved bonfires - perfect for a starry, cold night.

Is it my imagination or does this look like a Welsh Dragon?!!


The downside of the cold spell was frozen ground that defeated any attempts to attack the bittercress which is already begining to flower, and when the ground thawed the rains came making it too wet to start weeding. At least by cutting back I can now see more clearly where the priorities are and it was heartening to see growth returning in plants such as phlox, papaver orientale, monardas, sedums, lupins and colchicums which send out their large fleshy leaves at what always seems to be an entirely inappropriate time, but no amount of late frosts seem to to trouble them.

The cutting back begins and the first of the plant stakes are removed 




Colchicum "Waterlily" bursts into lush growth



The loan of a large commercial leaf blower from Rob the lawns guru has been a welcome accessory to keep the gardens tidy and an added bonus is that it just blows off huge swathes of moss and lichens on the gravel paths as easily as lifting a rug. Only one small problem is that it takes most of chippings with it, so paths have to be made good at a cost of £41 for a 1 tonne bag - and it doesn't go very far!!



In the tunnels growth is much quicker than in the gardens and I have already repotted many of the plants there. Seed sowing continues with some good germination rates on my heated benches which I keep at around 55 -65 F. There are now in excess of 130 pots of seed at various stages of development plus over 100 pots of sweet peas now growing away well, on a shelf resting on the crop bars of the large tunnel well out of the way of predatory rodents.



Latterly I have started to pot on from my 4 large cold frames which are so valuable to keep off the worst of the weather, probably one of the best and cheapest ways of protecting hardy perennials from the worst of the elements as even though they are are hardy in the ground they are vulnerable in pots to excess wet and freezing of the roots.

Just 3 more to go - each takes about a day to clear and repot



We don't have large numbers of snowdrops in the gardens and I am desperately fighting off the galanthophile bug for which there seems to be no cure, but you can see at this time of year why, with little else to divert our attention, they command such interest. The latest crazy price on e-Bay for a form called "Golden Fleece" was £1,200 for a single bulb!! Most of ours are the plain nivalis with just a few named forms which would be fine if only I could find their labels. I apologise to any galanthophiles who may be offended by reading this!

Snowdrops and cyclamen make big contributions to The Beech Hedge Walk


Hellebores are much more my thing as you may know by now, but like almost  everyone else, they are very slow for me this year. Many of mine are in shade where they had to contend with conditions that were too dry for them during the hot weather last summer. They will come eventually but it is quite difficult even now to pick enough heads to float on on a bowl of water and not all the colours especially yellows are out yet.




Hellebores, especially the darker flowered ones, add depth to the colour scheme



 Right on cue the first of the daffodils, albeit a very small one,  narcissus cyclamineus bursts into flower just in time for St.David's Day


Only cyclamen coum are making a colourful inpact in large swathes, but other than this, there isn't much to rave about. Just a few herbaceous perennials have some new leaf growth which is nice, and brown seems to be the top colour.

In the open garden corydalis temulifolia "Chocolate Stars" is a sensational colour all winter, almost lost amongst the fallen tree leaves. It fades to brownish green later when it has attractive  lilac purple flowers



In a pot in the large tunnel melanoselinium decipiens, a half hardy umbellifer from Madeira, sends up new leaves which are puplish brown at first turning later to a fresh green. Tbe plant can get to 2 metres and is topped with a 3 feet wide flower head of pinkish umbels held on a strong cane like stem. Then being monocarpic it dies.



These lovely bronze brown leaves belong to bergenia "Bartok", one of a number of good forms named after composers



Wildlife and countryside

The highlight has to be, all of a sudden, the return of the frogs to the Padddock Pond. Not having seen them before, on 19 February the pond was alive with them making that incredible sound that at a distant of 30 yards can still be heard, like the distant rumble of a train. The pondweed covering the deep end of the pond is much to their liking as they conduct their manic reproductive activities day and night, oblivious to the mallard duck pair who regularly visit the pond, with similar activities on their minds soon. It would be great to have some ducklings again after an absence of 5 years.





 And a sea of tapioca like spawn across 9 sq. metres of the Paddock Rond and still more to come.



The first honey bees eagerly gather pollen from the winter heathers in full flower


Every year the number of buzzards seem to increase to the point where they are last as numerous  again as the redkites. Birds in general are active all over the gardens and adjoining countryside with birdsong every day particularly robins which have sweet sounding melodies to lure a mate. 

Lambing is in full swing on all the neighbouring farms with more and more appearing in the fields as the season progresses and the lambs get stronger. Several of my neighbours have lost lambs to foxes which appear to be more numerous than usual this year, the twin lambs being more at risk as their mothers find it difficult to protect both lambs when a fox attacks.


At least the lambs get off to a good start in the generously straw covered barns before turning out into the fields



Four talks to garden clubs within in a 70 mile radius from Cilgwyn Lodge: Pembrey in the west, Aberystwyth in the north, a first visit to Glynneath in the east and the annual Llandysul Winter Gardening Weekend. All but one of them had talks on Vegetable Growing, the most popular title this year.

Llandysul Winter Gardening Weekend stage display when all the crowds have gone home


I am always looking to extend the range of talks I offer and am now up to 10 titles. I have for some time tried to consider how I could present a Propagation talk to a gardening club for up to 30 people. Although a slide show might work, it wouldn't really convey the practicalities of propagation, so I was very pleased when 5 ladies from  Brecon U3A Garden Interest Group asked if I could conduct a workshop at Cilgwyn Lodge which I readily agreed to do. On a cold afternoon we all huddled up in my large polytunnel with the gas heaters at full blast and using hands on examples, conducted a range of techniques from divisions, root cuttings, softwood and hardwood cuttings, seed sowing, compost mixes, care and growing on. We even tried our hands at cross pollinating hellebores. We also discussed other, more specialist methods of propagation such as budding, air layering, grafting and tissue culture. With just a short break for tea and Moira's cakes, they spent nearly 5 hourse here and left in the dark taking goody bags home with them after making a very generous donation to the NGS - the earliest visit we have have ever had for the charity. Keen gardeners indeed and a great group to entertain.


 Just 2 talks booked for March and guess what - veggies again! Just as well because  if the weather improves there is so much to do here in the next few weeks and my jobs list will once again be full - and all of them have a priority rating!! 

Hope you can make progress too now that spring has arrived. Happy gardening!