From drought to deluge and back again!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Writing this months News item I am infinitely more cheerful than I was a month ago, when 2 severe frosts had just ravaged the gardens. In some areas the situation is better now, but the legacy of those frosts lives on still,  and some  plants that should be  coming up to their best in late May,  are  showing signs of stress . More on this later,  but just to give you a first impression of what I mean:-

Corylopsis spicata without a single green leaf and no sign yet of any new buds opening. A 15 year old shrub with pale lemon flowers every Spring. Hope it survives for next year


 Recovery of some plants was greatly assisited by warmer weather, sunshine, milder nights and plenty of rain just when we needed it most



16 days with some rain, 15 sunny days. Only one frost -1C on 10th.  Max 27C on 26th and 4 other days above 20C, Strong easterly winds on the first 7 days of the month. Overall a good weather month for gardeners.

 Clear blue skies were a common feature of th month. The large fir tree was home to a large magpies nest. More on this later.


 A superb late evening sky which  proved to be true to the old weather lore rhyme "Mackerel sky, mackerel sky, never long wet, never long dry" There was drizzle the following day!



 More serious rain followed this cloud formation towards the end of the month.



Garden update

A wide range of vegetable seeds are up and away, most of them under cover of horti fleecewhich creates a microclimate for rapid germination, retains more moisture than you would believe and protects the young plants from pests large and small. My first sowing of peas was totally undisturbed by rodents which in most years can devastate a whole row overnight (hope this isn't tempting fate!).

Seed sowing underway early May with lots still to be planted!



Superb germination of pea "Hurst Green Shaft! a long time favourite of mine. A 10 - 11 week pea!!


 You will not believe how stony the 2 vegtable beds are. This is not a path but the stones I  raked out of one of the veg beds! It's  the same every Spring and yet with only about 15 inches of soil on bedrock we still manage to have good crops and surprisingly of carrots !



 Just a year ago this was our third vegetable bed which to make the House Garden more manageable was turned into a fine lawn and you know what?  it creates a wholly new aspect to the garden.


Tender vegetables in the tunnels are growing strongly and having been hardened off in cold frames, runner beans were the first to go out on 21 May. Sweetcorn, courgettes and Ridge cucumbers need a week or so longer. 28 large pots of tomatoes have been set out in the main tunnel. Far more than we need I know but a range of cultivars  provides variety and different culinary uses. Shop bought tomatoes seem even more tasteless than ever, irrespective of where they come from, and we can't wait for our own, fed largely by well rotted sheep manure, to start cropping, hopefully from late July.

For most vegetables I always succession sow to spread out the harvest over a longer period especially brassicas, legumes, salad crops, carrots and beetroots. I am never in a rush to fill all the veg beds at once which leads to gluts. As always our first crops were lettuce "Little Gem" from a January sowing in the tunnels and grown on with radish under fleece. date of harvest 18 May. Greyhound cabbage ready to cut next week. 

 In the flower boders it is always good to see the first of the early summer stalwarts come into bloom, living up to their reputation as hardy and long lived plants.

Part of the Picket Fence border at the front of the house.


There are still gaps in some of the borders which we are actively seeking to fill up, alongside all the other demanding tasks all over the gardens. They just never stop, and the rain has brought on a huge flush of bittercress and lesser willow herb which Moira assiduously removes before they have chance to seed.

Nursery stock is building in the tunnels and cold frames  for the gardens and to sell at Gelli Mydog for the NGS Open Day on 11 June. More on this later. Salvia cuttings have done well and we have built up a wide choice of cultivars. Of all the garden tasks my favourite of many is the propagation of plants.




Frost damage update

In places in the gardens where our 85 or so hydrangeas are growing it seems like autumn has arrived with shrivelled leaves and precious few  signs of new growth. Deutzias which normally flower from late May onwards have damaged buds  wich are unlikely to flower. Such a long lasting impact from just 2  sharp frosts.

This superb fatsia japonica variegata is almost totally defoliated and it's the same with 2 others elesewhere in the gardens


 Even shrubs that look healthy like viburnum "Kilimanjaro", still bear some of the scars of the frosts on the leaves


 Although much of the damage is on shrubs, many herbaceous plants have recovered, but there are some serious casualties like most lilies, none more upsetting than the martagon species and hybrids in which all the buds have been destroyed which should just be coming into flower now. However Cardiocrinum giganteum in the next pic has recovered sufficiently to send up a couple of shorter than usual buds.




What's looking good?

Only a picture gallery can do justice to the wide range of plants that reached their peak in late May.

 Lupin "The Governor" at twilight


 A congflagration of pelargoniums in the large tunnel


 Iris Sibirica "Silver Edge" and yellow candelabra primula at the Paddock Pond edge



 Bearded iris in dry sunny conditions, but less floriferous this year thanks to those frosts. The scent is almost as good as the flowers


 The highlight of late May is the flowering of the big poppies. In the Red Border one of the first plantings in 1999 was Papaver orientale "Beauty of Livermere" and is still going strong


 For a number of years we also had good stands of the famed and fabulous Himalayan blue poppy in the form " Lingholm Hybrids" but as they have a tendancy to do, they have faded away ,so to get our blue poppy fix we took a trip to our friends Liz and Paul and their fabulous garden at Llwyngarreg to see theirs instead



The only true long term perennials are those that came into being as the result of a natural crossing of  different species. They produce no viable seed so at present splitting is the only way to reproduce them. The George Sherriff Group contains some of the best named forms and this one is "Ascreavie" It really is that intense blue!



 In a lighter shade of blue is amsonia tabernaemontana which as the name suggests is a native USA prairie plant with wonderful steely blue flowers in May and June followed by golden yellow foliage in autumn


 Geums have made a comeback in the last few years having previously fallen out of favour.  "Totally Tangerine" is a tall long flowering form, if cut back after the first flowering. This pic doesn't do justice to the colour but trust me if you don't like orange flowers this may not be the one for you! Go on give one a try and match in with blues and brown leaved grasses - suddenly a new you!!


 The first daylily of the year is always hemerocallis lilioasphodelus which has the benefit of  masses of smaller intensely scented flowers particularly in the evening. Many of the more recent yellow cultivars which have scent come from this  wild form.



Wildlife and countryside

A masive amount of activity all aroud us,  with birds still in their main breeding season and plenty of young rabbits in the surrounding fields but not yet in the garden (Kit the Cat sees to that!).

There was a special  bird highlight during the month. I heard a high pitched shrieking call whilst working in the garden, and looked up to see many small birds frantically flying off in all directions, the sure sign of a bird of prey. The call suggested a Peregrine Falcon and sure enough what came into view was that familiar sickle wing shape, not one bird but 2.  My only reservation in identifying the birds was that they seemed too small for peregrines. There is a summer visitor however called a Hobby which is at the end of its usual range in our part of Wales. Their usual prey is smaller birds particularly swallows and martins but also dragonflies indicating what fabulous fliers they are. Subsequent research on the internet confimed my identity and suggested that they are now spreading into newer habitats in areas on the edge of their normal range. What a thrill and happily they flew off without making a kill.

To read more about the hobby  go to

 At the beginning of this News Item I mentioned the large fir tree which had a long established magpies nest. In a gale at the beginning of the month it was blown out of the tree into the Red Border. No damage done even though it was quite a heavy structure. It needed a cart to to take it away and Kit Kat  decided he would try it out (it was lined with moss and feathers which were much to his liking)! No chicks or eggs so most likely an old unused nest.



The warm weather in the last week of the month brought out the first damselflies in a range of red and blue bodied forms, including a beautiful Blue Demoiselle, with  large, midnight blue wings. It was fairly common here until the last few years since when I have not seen it until last week. No camera of course - doesn't it always happen?!

To dicover more about this damselfly go to

Wild flowers are swelling the fields and lanes. none finer than ox-eye daisies, together with red campion and absolutely masses of buttercups (no finer impact than in a hay meadow but such a thug in the garden!).



My farmer neighbours on their family farms, are at their busiest time of the year with shearing, calving and the silage harvest all coming at once. They work incredibly hard and all their efforts keep the familiar mostly upland landscape, looking much as it has done for centuries.

In a News Item towards the end of last year I expressed severe concerns about the future of our ash trees, the second most common native tree in Carmarthenshire after the oak. Ash Die back disease is now endemic and many of them lost their leaves in mid summer and the small branches and twigs began to fall.  I was concerned that they would not come back but many have recently come into leaf, albeit not vigorously. This is one of the finest old specimens I have found in our area putting up  good show. Whether for all of the ash this is just a last hurrah we will have to wait and see.




We had a number of exciting and enjoyable outings, somehow finding the time in a busy garden month. From masses of pics here are some of the best

 Malvern RHS Spring Festival one of the best for some years








 in its 60th year it was good to see the stand of the Hardy Plant Society win a Silver Gilt medal retracing the history of the Society and some of the plants beloved by its members


A variety of plant societies had a stand and this for me was the best, mounted by the British Iris Society. What a huge plant family with a long and fascinating history. Disappointing that it was only considered to merit a Silver Gilt medal by the RHS


 After that we needed a laugh which was immediately provided by an outlet serving Pimms!



Staying on after Malvern, not far away is Spetchley Park Gardens a favourite garden with a unique atmosphere, even or because of the rain! To find out more go to Sorry I couldn't get the link to work.








 A fantastic shrub stole the show in the walled garden. Can you identify it? It stumped me and by all accounts many other visitors too which makes me feel better!! Answer at the end.



Whilst in Worcestershire, a favourite spot for an asparagus lunch is the Round of Gras (the bundles that apsargus is tied into) at Badsey, Evesham




Clyne Gardens, Swansea

Nestled in a lush valley a few hundred metres from the sea and just a couple of miles from the city centre, is this jewel of a garden which is now managed by the City Council. Rhododendrons in profusion and a host of rare trees form the backdrop but there are many tender and moisture loving plants. Go the website for history and  information. Open all year round and free entry.




 The paper handkerchief tree davidia involucrata var.valmoriniana in glorious full bloom, one of nine in the garden!


 Emrothrium cocciheum, the so called Chilean fire bush


 Japanese bridge over the stream fed by the lake at the head of the garden



Swansea Bay 


Go and see it if you can.

 And over the late Bank Holiday a trip to Aberaeron for the annual plant fair in Alban Square,  a public space surrounded by Georgian houses in a seaside town that is famous for them.


 ANSWER TO THE QUESTION POSED EARLIER. The shrub at Spetchley Park is viburnum macrocephalum. It is rather tender hence the wall it was growing up.

Finally we will be selling our plants at Gelli Mydog, Myddfai SA20 0JQ which our friends Robert and Barry are opening for the NGS for a second year, on 11 June 12.00 - 5.00 pm.  We have a very good range of plants for sale and the gardens are well worth seeing:- large borders and stream garden, superb manicured lawns, wildflower meadow and wide ranging views of upland country.  Teas; Signposted from Llandovery and Llangadog. Look for NGS Yellow Signs. Do please come if you can.

Let us hope we all have a good June to enjoy our gardens at one of the best times of the year. Thanks for reading.